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February 16, 2011 12:03 am

The Right to Bear Arms for National Defense. Wrong!

avatar by Bernard Starr

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Burgoyne surrendering his army to American General Horatio Gates by John Trumbull. Photo: Architect of the Capitol

Last fourth of July, while sitting in the living room of my historic farm house in Lenox, Massachusetts, which was built by Elijah Northrup in 1770 — a fourth-generation American — I thought about the Berkshire regiment and the American Revolution. Since the house was a tavern during the revolutionary war period I imagined that it must have hosted some lively conversation about the oppressive rule of King George the 3rd and the rising sentiment for rebellion, especially in Lenox. In 1774 the Berkshires issued the Lenox Covenant, one of the first formal acts of defiance against the Crown’s taxation without representation. It was a courageous act that exposed the signers to prosecution and hanging should the revolution fail. The document was a precursor of the Declaration of Independence.

When word came that the first shots had been fired at Lexington, Col. John Paterson, (later General Paterson) notified the Berkshire militia of mostly farmers to fetch their rifles and prepare to join the revolution — there was no military issue of weapons.

One account said they made the arduous trip over rough terrain from far western Massachusetts to far eastern Massachusetts with lightening speed, just missing the Battle of Lexington but in time for the Battle of Concord. They went on to participate in many major campaigns, including Bunker Hill and the crossing of the Delaware with General Washington. Later they joined other units of the Continental Army that assembled on Long Island for a major campaign in Saratoga against the forces of the distinguished British general, John Burgoyne. They crossed Long Island Sound, marched through Connecticut and northwestern Massachusetts, then west to Albany and north to Saratoga for the faceoff with Burgoyne. Along the way they met friendly receptions from other farmers and townspeople. The formidable British army also gathered at Saratoga from various parts of the colonies and Canada. But they did not find the same cordial welcome

Burgoyne complained bitterly that his troops were harassed and picked off by farmers with guns. He added that they didn’t fight like gentleman. Unlike the British, they weren’t decked out in bright uniforms, nor did they line up at point-blank range to exchange shots. Rather, he said, they fought like Indians — sniping from behind trees and other camouflage. No wonder that Burgoyne had nothing but contempt for this rag tag army of unpaid, undisciplined, undertrained, and underequipped farmers with their own crude rifles.

The British went down to defeat in the Battle of Saratoga, the first major victory for the Continental Army. On Oct. 17, 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his army to American General Horatio Gates. Burgoyne returned to England in disgrace and retired from the military.

Ordinary citizens with personal guns were a major factor in the Continental Army’s eventual victory in the revolution — a fact that no doubt prompted the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right of citizens to bear arms. But based on the experience of the American Revolution, the amendment clearly stated that the intention of that right was for national defense: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (ratified 12/15/1791). The fledgling free America still faced threats from European armies that occupied areas of North and South America. Armed citizens would be essential for national defense.

But does that provision for national defense make any sense today? Let’s think of how the scenario of the American Revolution period would translate for 21st century America.

Our first alert system, Sarah Palin sitting on her deck in Alaska with vigilant eyes on Russia, spots nuclear missiles heading toward the States. She promptly alerts the Pentagon. In turn, the Pentagon activates the modern day Paul Revere network throughout the country. In seconds, thousands of Paul Reveres rev up the engines of their SUV’s and race through towns, villages, and hamlets rousing the populace: “The Russians are coming.” Citizens quickly grab their firearms. A hundred million guns or more are now poised for the defeat of the Russians — hand guns, rifles, semi-automatic weapons, fully automatic assault rifles, and more. Our 21st century Continental Army is ready.

But ready for what? To shoot down nuclear missiles? Would these armed citizens serve our national defense in any useful way? Or would they pose a national defense threat and crisis? In the ensuing fear and chaos, the weapons would most likely — as in many similar upheavals — be used for looting, mayhem, vigilantism, and murder.

I wonder what the Founding Fathers would say — and what amendments they would propose for 21st century America.

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  • Ed Gerson

    Well, the first part of the article certainly qualifies as half of the truth now doesn’t it? Hitler and Castro and the antebellum southern US forbade the private ownership of firearms. We see where that got us.

    The core of military dominance is an armed and unwelcome warrior being at your door and in your house. One-liners and scalding water missiles anyone? Assimilation perhaps?

  • Just about all of what you point out happens to be astonishingly precise and it makes me ponder the reason why I hadn’t looked at this in this light previously. This piece really did turn the light on for me personally as far as this specific topic goes. However there is 1 point I am not really too comfortable with so while I attempt to reconcile that with the actual central idea of the point, let me see what all the rest of your readers have to say.Very well done.

  • Stanley Gornish

    The hysteria (pro and con) over guns misses a crucial point. And that is, that the major threat is guns in the hands of CRIMINALS.

    • Jefferson

      …and the biggest deterrent to that threat is guns in the hands of LAW ABIDING CITIZENS!

      criminals will always be able to get their hands on guns (the same way they have always managed to get their hands on cocaine, heroin and four loko).

      taking guns away from every john doe will only make the criminals’ job a whole lot easier.

  • An excellent analysis. The problem began with Scalia’s opinion in Heller v. District of Columbia, where he decided that the 2d Amendment was intended to allow the people to overthrow a tyrannical government, a notion which completely contradicted the traditional conservative mantra invoked to support government suppression of dissent that “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.” Professor Frank Askin, Rutgers Law School-Newark.

    • Shooter 2.5

      Which founding father ever advocated disarming the American People?

      George Mason:
      “to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them

  • Nechama

    The right to bear arms is not for national defense. The Second Amendment is for the protection of the citizens not the government.
    At least the above comments get it, proving that you have educated readers.
    This article is poorly thought out.

  • PAgrad

    That’s interesting… I didn’t even see ONE Bow and Arrow in the recent Egypt revolution against tyranny. Do you think that FOX NEWS edited out all those massive weapons used by the citizenry?

  • Dave

    Anyone familiar with the actual history of the writing and passage of the second ammendment would be aware that it was couched in BOTH the understanding of the role of personal gun ownership as a means of empowering the populace to withstand oppression AND the need of the new American state to be able to defend itself against states with standing armies (which the US did not have).
    Frankly, personal gun ownership today still serves some of those purposes. Americans have not faced the need to withstand oppression since our revolution. It is a little difficult to judge the continuing value of this portion of the right (a bit like a talisman to ward off dragons might be said to be working, because we haven’t had any dragon attacks since we got it). But, the American armed services are very heavily populated by young men and women who grew up in houses with guns. It would be very hard to argue that personal gun ownership doesn’t still contribute to our nation’s ability to field a well regulated militia.
    -and that’s what i think about that-

  • PAgrad

    Well, somebody got it right. The NRA never alludes to the preamble: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State….” Even the US ARMY locks up their weapons and any soldier caught with an unauthorized weapon is Court Marshaled. Let’s tell the truth: the NRA is just a Lobby for a moneyed industry. There is no need for weaponry! Several popular peaceful countries have abolished guns. (Yes, you can think of them.) All our Constitutional ‘Amendments’ have limitations! There are, and never was, unregulated ‘Freedoms’. Amend the Amendment. The Right to bear arms shall be regulated by the US ARMED FORCES and may extend to authorized Police Forces recognized by the Congress of the United States. It should be a National Policy!

    • Shooter 2.5

      And why would a person who is NOT a member of an organization pretend to know what that organization stands for? The Second Amendment is written in it’s entirety in just about ALL of the association’s magazines. It’s the Freedom Robbers who ignore the Second Amendment’s meanings. Are you trying to explain the Bill of Rights was written to explain what Rights only the government should have? Should your ability to use a computer be limited “by the US ARMED FORCES and may extend to authorized Police Forces recognized by the Congress of the United States?”.

      The Armed Forces policy of disarming their soldiers worked so well at Fort Hood, didn’t it? Do a little research and find out if the recent policy of disarming our soldiers has ever stopped a mass shooting.

  • Andy Reibson

    Childish analysis at best. Rifles cannot defend against a nuclear ICBM attack and are useless, yet my Nat’l Guard daughter carries one in the Sandbox. I’ll advise her that this Starr advises her to accept her own defenselessness and throw her M4 on the scrapheap.

  • Shooter 2.5

    Well, maybe the author has a point. We should stop equipting our soldiers with those useless rifles and simply nuke those countries from orbit and be done with it. We can get out of those countries like Pakistan, Afganistan, and Iraq in about six months. Turn those countries into glass parking lots and while we’re at it, add Mecca.

    The rest of this article is useless, inaccurate and a waste of electrons. So here is a little reading comprehension lesson: The moon is made of green cheese, the Right of the People to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. For further instruction, cross the Rio Grande to the south and discover what happens when only the thug-criminals, the thug-police and the thug-military are the only ones with the guns.

  • KansasGirl

    The second admendment is to protect the citizens from tyranny.

  • onbe

    Go home and try again.This article is a epic failure!

    • you only say that becaus you are an epic failure.

      p.s. good info.

      • i do not like it when people thik they know what they are talking about when they don’t

        • Bernard Starr

          Instead of just proclaiming that I don’t know what I’m talking about, why don’t you tell us what it is that I don’t know and what it is that you apparently do know. That might be a genuine contrabution and might also resemble a civil conversation or discussion.

          • jpeditor

            Perhaps if you didn’t have Palin Derangement Syndrome, you wouldn’t make such an ass out of yourself.

            Certainly you are one of the lily-livered liberals who think that idea’s like Palin’s are so inflammatory they should be countered with a “fairness doctrine”, eh, what?

            I have an idea; perhaps you can do an essay on whether we need a PERMIT TO PUBLISH OUR THOUGHTS IN PUBLIC. Or better, should we need a state-sponsored license to sell your ideas?

            And who better than YOU to be on the commission that decides who gets a permit to EXERCISE THEIR FIRST AMENDMENT!

            Tell you what, if you so hate the concept of law-abiding Americans owning firearms, why don’t you put a sign on your door saying “Dear Mr. Criminal, please don’t hurt me, this is a gun-free zone!”

            And take a picture and publish it so we can all see it.

          • Bernard can you give me your source for this statement, as I am doing a research project on Col Paterson’s Regiment When word came that the first shots had been fired at Lexington, Col. John Paterson, (later General Paterson) notified the Berkshire militia of mostly farmers to fetch their rifles and prepare to join the revolution — there was no military issue of weapons.

            One account said they made the arduous trip over rough terrain from far western Massachusetts to far eastern Massachusetts with lightening speed, just missing the Battle of Lexington but in time for the Battle of Concord.

  • Bill In ATL

    Jefferson has it right. The second amendment is about keeping the government in check. The British were our government. I hope Bernard is happy in Taxachussets. We here in Georgia prefer to carry firearms.

  • Jefferson

    The writer doesn’t even remotely get the point of the second amendment. it isn’t about national defense at all! that’s what the army and navy are for. It is the last and most effective means to keep the american government out of the hands of a dictator come what may. it is the vanguard of our most precious freedoms. a dictator cannot control the people with nuclear missiles, but an unarmed populace can easily be tamed. the second amendment is there to make it very, very difficult for that to happen.