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I read an article the other day in the Wall Street Journal by  Chris Bray-a former Army Infantry Sargeant who is now an adjunct assistant Professor at a college in California. I have transcribed his article as it was printed in the Journal. I see this as another view in a shouting match where no one is really heard or listened to :

It’s the discussion Americans can never settle: Does the Second Amendment convey an individual right to bear arms, or does it only establish the means to arm the state military institutions that the Founders knew as the militia and we know as the National Guard? Those stark choices shrink our history into cartoonish simplicity. The real story is far more complex and illuminating. At the nations beginning, there was a variety of middle ways regarding militias, a set of expectations and boundaries built in culture and enforced by community. In a box at the Rhode Island Historical Society, a contract describes the creation of a militia in Kent County during the crisis year of 1774. ” We the subscribers do unanimously join to establish and constitute a military independent company”, reads an agreement signed by dozens of local men. “That on every Tuesday and Saturday in the afternoon for the future, or as long occasion require it shall be judg’d   necessary or expedient a Meeting to be held at the House of William Arnold in East Greenwich for the purpose aforesaid.”

For Instance:You and Bill and I hereby agree to make an Army, and let’s meet at Bill’s house to practice.

Formed by an  agreement between armed individuals, the Kentish Guards became a militia organization without being  a government institution, though the members would soon approach a colonial government of Rhode  Island for a charter. It was a “militia association,” built in equal measure from  multiple foundations. The men of the Kentish Guards weren’t a militia merely because they each owned guns, and they weren’t a militia because the government said they were. They became a militia when they talked among themselves, agreed on rules and a shared purpose, and signed a mutual contract. They were a militia as a community. The agreement to make a militia empowered its members and restrained them at the same time , allowing them to act but demanding that they act together in considered ways. The early American militia was neither purely individual nor purely governmental; rather, it was deeply rooted in a particular place, making the militia a creature that stood with one foot in government and one foot firmly in civil society.

In this social vision, government couldn’t properly take guns from the men who then made up political society but those men couldn’t properly use guns in ways that transgressed community values and expectations. The bearing of arms was a socially regulated act.

That mixed reality grew from a social world that looks nothing like our own. The first few American police departments were still many decades in the future and the victims of crime could only shout for their neighbors. Whole neighborhoods raced into the street in response to a cry for help and victims could personally bring the accused before a local magistrate. Communities turned out to face military threats, neighbors joining neighbors for mutual defense. Adulterers and wife beaters were often punished in the ritual called “skimminton” or “charivari” (where they were ) bound to a fence post and paraded in shame by their jeering neighbors. With this kind of local experience, the bearing of arms was an individual act undertaken in carefully shared and monitored ways. The historian T.H. Breen has described the citizen-soldiers of colonial Massachusetts as members of a “covenanted militia”, bound by agreement.

Another historian, Steven Rosswurm has described the negotiations between Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary government and the ordinary men, service as privates in the militia, who formed a “committee  of Privates” to present the terms under which they would perform armed service. Government did not just command; state and communities talked, bargained and agreed. individuals were both free to act and responsible to one another for their actions, in a constantly debated balance.

In the predawn hours of April 19th, 1775, militia men of Lexington, Mass. gathered around their commander, Captain John Parker greeted each man, writes the historian David Hackett Fischer in his book “Paul Revere’s Ride” as ” neighbor, kinsman and friend”, joining them to decide what they would do about the British Regulars marching towards their town.  “The men of  Lexington gathered around Captain Parker on the common and held an impromptu town meeting in the open air.” They had a commander and he joined them for discussion.

Today, we are presented with a false choice in which either the government bans  assault weapons or an unfettered individual right makes it possible for a monster to spray bullets into school houses. The forgotten middle ways of our nation’s earlier days, that world of mutuality that  excluded more people than it included ,its shortcomings are well known but the benefits of a strong civil society are lost to us when we expect government to address and solve our every problem.

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