The Unorganized Militia Once Again is Needed

According to press reports, a passenger helped subdue the terrorist who was attempting to bring down Northwest #253. This again highlights the importance of the unorganized militia in asymetric warfare. In Saved by the Militia, I offered this analysis in the wake of the success of the general militia on United Airlines #93 in defending Washington from terrorist attack on 9/11:

The characterization of these heroes as members of the militia is not just the opinion of one law professor. It is clearly stated in Federal statutes. Perhaps you will not believe me unless I quote Section 311 of US Code Title 10, entitled, “Militia: composition and classes” in its entirety (with emphases added):
“(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b) The classes of the militia are —

(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and

(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.

This is not to score political points at a moment of great tragedy, though had the murderers on these four airplanes been armed with guns rather than knives, reminders of this fact would never end. Rather, that it was militia members who saved whatever was the terrorists’ target — whether the White House or the Capitol — at the cost of their lives points in the direction of practical steps — in some cases the only practical steps — to reduce the damage cause by any future attacks.

You might want to click through to read the whole thing, which includes this:

Here is the cold hard fact of the matter that will be evaded and denied but which must never be forgotten in these discussions: Often — whether on an airplane, subway, cruise ship, or in a high school — only self defense by the “unorganized militia” will be available when domestic or foreign terrorists chose their next moment of murder. And here is the public-policy implication of this fact: It would be better if the militia were more prepared to act when it is needed. (emphasis in original)

And ends with this:

A well-regulated militia does not require a draft or any compulsory training. Nor, as Alexander Hamilton recognized, need training be universal. “To attempt such a thing which would abridge the mass of labor and industry to so considerable extent, would be unwise,” he wrote in Federalist 29, “and the experiment, if made, could not succeed, because it would not long be endured.” But Congress has the constitutional power to create training programs in effective self-defense including training in small arms — marksmanship, tactics, and gun safety — for any American citizen who volunteers. Any guess how many millions would take weapons training at government expense or even for a modest fee if generally offered?

Rather than provide for training and encouraging persons to be able to defend themselves — and to exercise their training responsibly — powerful lobbying groups have and will continue to advocate passivity and disarmament. The vociferous anti-self-defense, anti-gun crusaders of the past decades will not give up now. Instead they will shift our focus to restrictions on American liberties that will be ineffective against future attacks. [snip]

Rather than make war on the American people and their liberties, however, Congress should be looking for ways to empower them to protect themselves when warranted. The Founders knew — and put in the form of a written guarantee — the proposition that the individual right to keep and bear arms was the principal means of preserving a militia that was “essential,” in a free state, to provide personal and collective self-defense against criminals of all stripes, both domestic and foreign.

A renewed commitment to a well-regulated militia would not be a panacea for crime and terrorism, but neither will any other course of action now being recommended or adopted. We have long been told that, in a modern world, the militia is obsolete. Put aside the fact that the importance of the militia to a “the security of a free state” is hardwired into the text of the Constitution. The events of this week have shown that the militia is far from obsolete in a world where war is waged by cells as well as states. It is long past time we heeded the words of the Founders and end the systematic effort to disarm Americans. Now is also the time to consider what it would take in practical terms to well-regulate the now-unorganized militia, so no criminal will feel completely secure when confronting one or more of its members.

In this column, I was not advocating arming passengers on airplanes (though I would not rule out such a policy if properly regulated). My reference to weapons training concerned other sorts of terrorist attacks where weapons are essential for individual and collective self-defense. One recent example is the terrorist attack on Fort Hood–a mandated “gun free zone”–where military and civilians were slaughtered until armed police officers arrived on the scene and were able to incapacitate the attacker using their handguns. Yet another example of how demonized handguns are a useful tool when in the right hands. Lives would have been saved if some of the army and militia members in the kill zone had been armed. Instead of empowering them to act as militia members, however, they became victims.

One reaction to my column was to ridicule the identification of passengers with militia members. (Here some will predictably dismiss the point by noting that this passenger was a Dutchman, not an American.) Of course, if the general militia consists of the able bodied population as a whole, then this is simply what the word “militia” means, though some want to identify the term with the organized militia. (Of course, the U.S. Code should be revised to include women, and even folks my age.) So it is not lost, the point of my column was three fold:

Contrary to what is claimed by many, the need for a militia continues to exist even in a world of hyper-lethal armies, and especially when engaged in asymetric warfare;

Given this need, it would be better that the militia was well-regulated, which is within the enumerated powers of Congress;

This regulation need not entail any conscription, but voluntary training programs so people feel empowered to defend themselves, as Jasper Schuringa on Northwest #253 apparently did (though he reportedly had to dive over more passive passengers to get to the terrorist), and conscious of their responsibilities as militia members to act when an emergency arises that prevents organized law enforcement or military authorities from taking action.

For those who still resist this idea, let me suggest that general militia membership is a socially constructed state of mind and is one to be encouraged and honed rather than discouraged and ridiculed.

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