A moment of thanks for the modern minutemen

Last month, I blogged about this odd Naomi Wolf moment:


Few young Americans understand that the Second Amendment keeps their homes safe from the kind of government intrusion that other citizens suffer around the world; few realize that "due process" means that they can't be locked up in a dungeon by the state and left to languish indefinitely.


Now she's posted a defense:

Many writers have asked whether I intended to refer to the Second Amendment when I mentioned that we have been free of intimidation by the government that other citizens experience around the world. I did indeed intend to refer to the Second Amendment, though not in the sense that most of the email about this assumed. I was referring to militias -- "a well regulated Militia" --not to private gun ownsership.

Often today, the Second Amendment is associated in our minds with the private right to bear arms, which is the subject of a case--District of Columbia v. Heller--at the US Supreme Court this year. Rather, I was referring to the historical origin of the Second Amendment, as the protector of local militias that would be more closely accountable to the people than a federal army. Many in the founding period were distrustful of a large standing army: they - and their wives and children - had experienced abuse at the hands of unaccountable soldiers in their midst.

They wanted to make sure that local governments retained their own protection against foreign invaders and ALSO against the potential for domestic tyranny. An abusive military, secret police force, or network of paramilitary militias,directed to intimidate or oppress citizens to whom they are not accountable, are one of the ten key tools of those who seek a crackdown against democracies or democratic movements -- see Italy in the 1910s, Germany in the 1930's, East Germany in the 1950's or Russia, Egypt, Myanmar, Pakistan, or pretty much any closing or closed society today. The Second Amendment protects U.S. citizens by protecting local militias that are closely accountable to the people. The states are still allowed to have their own militias, which are referred to as State Guards or State Defense Forces (as opposed to the National Guard, which is part of the federal army). Twenty-five states have such guards, which are under the direction and control of the governor of the state.

I could have done better than this on a freshman composition, spotting Ms. Wolf three beers and an entire day wasted on Law & Order marathons. The most charitable interpretation was that Ms Wolf was a stealth second-amendment absolutist coming out of the closet to announce, in an ill-phrased and opaque way, that she thought that our third and fourth amendment rights were ultimately protected by the right of the public to keep and bear arms, and to rise up against a government that did not abide by the constitution. The second most charitable interpretation was that Ms. Wolf was a closet second-amendment supporter of a slightly hysterical bent, kept awake nights by the worry that without the second amendment, the United States government would long ago have instituted house-to-house searches to seize our guns. The third most charitable explanation, and the one that struck me as the most likely, is that Ms Wolf had made a typo. Since op-eds are generally given more leeway than straight articles, no one caught it.

But rather than offer any of these explanations, Ms. Wolf has tried to argue that the approximately 12,000 members of the state defense forces are the main thing standing between you and the 1.5 million members of the active duty military, 1.3 million members of the active reserve, and the million or so police officers and federal agents in the United States. Without those brave 12,000 souls, you see, the Federal Government would even now be roaming freely through your living room, rustling through the Precious Moments collectibles, raiding the fridge and probably hogging the remote. The next time you get up to fetch another beer, and return to your couch without tripping over a DEA agent, or the long dark night of fascism gripping our nation's soul, how about taking a moment to give silent thanks to those brave militiamen? And of course, the founding fathers who had the foresight to write their courageous service right there into our constitution, instead of doing something stupid, like giving you your own gun to shoot the federales when they showed up at your door demanding a place to sleep and a few warrantless searches to keep them entertained while you cook.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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