The Florida Legislature moved forward with a bill last week “that includes new restrictions on rifle sales and a program to arm some teachers.” The measure also includes a provision to “raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21.” At least one Florida lawmaker has rejected that age provision as unconstitutional.
On its face, it does seem to violate the 14th Amendment’s demand that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…nor deny to any person the equal protection of the laws.” The U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment clearly intends to immunize the possession of arms by the people of the United States against infringement by the national government. The protection therefore appears to be among the “privileges and immunities” of American citizens referred to in the 14th Amendment’s language. The full exercise of their citizen duties may logically be postponed for children still subject to the authority of their parents. It’s clearly unfair to impose duties where full personal responsibility is not to be expected.
But the Constitution’s 26th Amendment set the threshold voting age for citizens of the United States at 18. So, the people of the United States now formally consider citizens of that age responsible enough to participate in their electoral deliberations as a sovereign body. Therefore, what sense does it make to deny that they are capable to be held fully responsible for their own defense and the defense of their community? That sense of things is reflected in the provisions of law that specify the age at which citizens, otherwise qualified, become subject to register for military service.
But if it is unjust, for example, to coerce tax money from people without their consent, as part of the body politic (one key premise of the American Revolution), how can it be just to tax away their lives, as it were, by forcing them into military service, yet continue to bar them from fully responsible participation as members of that body?
Be that as it may, the Constitution’s logic remedies this perceived injustice. Taken together, the tenor of the Selective Service Act and the enactment of the 26 Amendment forbid us to assume that citizens who have reached the age of 18 do not possess, in full, the privileges and immunities the Constitution’s 14th Amendment forbids state governments to abridge, by any enactment of law. Florida legislators would do well to ponder this seriously, as their well-intentioned response to the deep concerns of their constituents may be successfully challenged in federal court.
Of course, this advice assumes that they are serious about their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States. But why should they be any more serious about their oath than the members of the U.S. Congress? The Constitution vests Congress with the power to “provide for organizing, arming and disciplining, the militia…reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”
The first duty of defense against attacks that spring up suddenly against people going about their affairs at the local level necessarily falls to the militia. We mistakenly assume that this is the job of the state and local police. But unless we are foolishly willing to allow self-aggrandizing elites to subject our nation to a police state (symbolized, perhaps, by police on every street corner, and in every hallway of our schools) Americans loyal to our constitutional self-government must adamantly oppose this subjection.
To do so successfully, we must be willing to accept the fact that people determined to secure their free state (i.e., their constitutional self-government) must themselves provide the first line of defense against sudden attacks in their midst. Police, state troopers, and elements of the organized militia such as the National Guard and Reserves, cannot be instantly on the spot. Citizens, prepared to fulfill their duty to defend themselves and the communities in which they live, could already be there. But for all their declamations of concern, the members of Congress to whom the Constitution entrusts the responsibility to assure the discipline that informs their preparedness for action refuse to do their duty.
They ought consciously and carefully to devise and enact legislation that revives the organization of local militias throughout the United States, as the Constitution expects them to do. Instead of a random patchwork of different state provisions, the Constitution expects a prescription from Congress to be implemented under the authority of each state. This is meant to assure a reliable regime of discipline, consistent with the U.S. government’s responsibility to guarantee each state’s republican institutions, and protect the states against invasions, including the invasion of their peace by domestic violence.
In an article published earlier this week, I recommended that people take the time to watch the movie “Drums Along the Mohawk,” which instructively depicts the role of the local militia in defending their communities, at the time of the American Revolutionary war. It takes but little imagination to see the parallel with our times. For, once again, organized hostile forces, to include here and there “an army of one,” can suddenly stage a surprise attack, as we go about our daily lives. If we mean to preserve our liberty as a people, we will have to display the character and courage required to respond to such threat immediately, pinning down and distracting attackers until more help arrives.
These days that may take only a few minutes – but in those minutes more lives can be lost than in hours, at the time the Constitution was being written. There must therefore be, in the very midst of us, private citizens willing to make themselves ready to defend the people they live with, in proper exercise of the right the Constitution’s Second Amendment specifies and protects for that very purpose.
If any of our representatives in Congress have even a shred of the statecraft that was evident among our nation’s founding generation, they will take the lead in restoring this kind of local readiness, as the Constitution expects them to do. Thus, we may again help all the world to understand that the true constitution of liberty is not of words written on paper – it’s of courage, enacted from the hearts of ordinary folks, who have bravery enough to stand fast, so that the ground on which they live their everyday lives can remain “land of the free.”