DC Gun Fight: Bad Terrain

Bad Terrain

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says the federal government cannot control all the country’s weapons, reserving that right to either state militias or individual state citizens. That ambiguous “either/or” issue may be clarified by the U.S. Supreme Court through consideration of a District of Columbia gun law.

But the District of Columbia is an inappropriate place to test the Second Amendment. Here’s why.

When the Constitution and Bill of Rights were ratified, every American then living was in a U.S. state – there were no territories, no possessions, no zones of occupation, just states. The U.S. had always been just states; no reason to think it would be otherwise. State citizens had military units, militias. If the federal government needed a big army, it could call upon state governors to send their militias.

After a few years, Congress invented an imaginary city as a capital and promptly forgot to consider the consequences. The city didn’t get built for a decade. When it did, it was a mess. Congressmen didn’t care. Why should they? It wasn’t their constituency.

Back to the Second Amendment and the Big Question: who gets guns, Joe Sixpack or the State Militia? But that’s not a question in the District of Columbia. Why? Because due to early Congressional laziness the District of Columbia doesn’t really have a militia the way U.S. states have militias.

The District of Columbia has an Army National Guard and an Air National Guard. They are brave and capable, have fought and died for our country and our thoughts are with the men and women of those units, our neighbors, who are now overseas.

But other National Guard organizations in each state have dual jurisdiction for federal and local matters. The D.C. National Guard has no local jurisdiction. The D.C. Mayor cannot directly call upon District of Columbia National Guard forces to protect local interests. The commanding general is under the authority of the U.S. President at all times.

This has many repercussions, but one of them is this:  D.C. is bad terrain for the 2nd Amendment’s big gunfight because it lacks a militia under the control of the local government, one of the many abridged Constitutional rights of the District’s citizens.


“Five types of gun laws the Founding Fathers loved,” Saul Cornell, The Conversation

4 Responses to “DC Gun Fight: Bad Terrain”

  1. Gun Case Brief Backfires « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] [Note: Washington, DC cannot be the place to re-try the argument about the meaning of the Second Amendment. Why not? Read about it here.] […]

  2. ctdonath Says:

    Congress has declared every able-bodied male age 17-45 a part of the US militia – including those who reside in DC. This has been in place, in some form, since 1792. It is insane to argue that a local jurisdiction has any right to prohibit US militia members from possessing tools of their duties, thus depriving the United States of America as a whole of part of its self-protective ability.

    In 1802, the Congress enacted legislation officially establishing the District of Columbia Militia. It debuted in the War of 1812, and has not been officially deactivated. Their flag: http://americancivilwar.com/statepic/dc/dc_flag_p.gif

    Even if the local government utterly neglects its duties and the formal organization evaporates, the people of that jurisdiction (and this nation) retain the right to arms which are suitable for forming an active militia on short notice if need be. The right of the people does not disappear merely due to governmental neglect; even if the local leaders fail to provide for the security of the people in their jurisdiction (and linguistically the term “State” in the 2nd Amendment referred to jurisdiction and the residents thereof, not solely (say) “the state of Maryland”), the people would retain the tools needed to protect their community.

    However you look at it, there IS a militia comprised at least in part of residents of Washington DC, both local and federal, and it does NOT cease to exist just because of legislative neglect.

    Yet all of that is beside the point. The argument made by Heller, which is currently by far the winning view, is that THE PEOPLE – that is, all individuals within our nation – have a right to arms, including AND NOT LIMITED TO those suitable for militia use. Most assuredly, anyone who has tools of self-defense has a natural right to use them, unrestricted by any level of governance, to facilitate preservation of their own lives (and those of others) against lethal criminal and enemy assault. To argue otherwise is to argue for facilitating victimization and aiding those who would harm our people – a despicable perspective indeed.

  3. Mike Licht Says:

    Check the National Guard web sites; you will see they are the contemporary State Militias. We have a Federal system of government. The militias are under state control — i.e., the state governor is their commander — until specifically ordered to federal service. This is not an accident; it is a continuation of the fundamental rights and duties of state governments even before the first Continental Congress. Without inclusion of the right to state-controlled militia, it is doubtful states would have ratified the constitution as then designed.

    The District of Columbia has National Guard units but under permanent federal jurisdiction; these are not militia under Constitutional Law. The legislation you site is federal; the Guard units are federal. When the question is whether the control of weapons is to be by military units of state governments (aka militias) or their individual citizens it makes all the difference in the world.

  4. Attention Supreme Court « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] their neighbors in times of crisis under direction of their state’s chief executive. By law, ours cannot. DC Guard units are permanently federalized. You are so concerned with giving us guns; give us our […]

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