Blatchford: What did the Founding Fathers mean by a ‘well regulated Militia’?

Much has been made about the Second Amendment words “well regulated Militia” by those wishing to remove guns from the hands of responsible citizens. It’s the easy road to attempt to decipher original intent from a few concise words in a formal document. Perhaps a more in-depth look into the subject will be revealing.

What follows is not to be considered an advocacy for one position or another, but only a discussion. This issue was suggested earlier this week by a caller to a local radio talk show who was well-versed on the subject. He discussed the fact that many who are opposed to firearms (specifically assault rifles) cite the Second Amendment and the words “well regulated Militia,” and the interpretation that if you’re not attached to some form of military unit, there’s no need for anyone to have an assault rifle.


This caller pointed out that the Second Amendment was written by James Madison — a fact unknown to (or forgotten by) me. Why, you may ask, is that relevant? The caller then referenced The Federalist Papers — a compilation of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. The caller specifically referenced The Federalist No. 46 authored by (yup) James Madison. In No. 46, Madison elaborates on “militia.” He discussed the potential need for the citizens to protect themselves from an overzealous, power-grabbing federal government. In comparison, he states “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition [the larger federal government], more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.” As a final quote from Madison, I offer “Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

Madison, the author of the Second Amendment, was unopposed to citizens having guns in case they may be necessary to oppose those running the country and in charge of the national military. In earlier paragraphs, he cited the fact that millions of armed citizens should be able to overcome an adverse military supporting an unwelcome government. Of course, today’s military has armed civilians totally outgunned. We don’t have tanks or anti-tank weapons — once my specialty. That fact, however, doesn’t negate Madison’s intent.

Of course, many will now question the definition of a militia. Many believe that the National Guard now fills that role. There exists disagreement on that. The National Guard are paid troops — they are on the government payroll. Militia personnel are civilian volunteers. I would submit that the militia of James Madison’s days was much more a civilian than are today’s National Guard personnel. Imagine dropping everything in your life on a moment’s notice, picking up your firearm(s) and rushing into battle — for free. There is a distinction to be drawn.

Madison recognized that civilians with firearms would be beneficial and useful against oppressive governments. Will anyone claim that our government isn’t mindful of that fact?

I once held the opinion that civilians had no need to own assault rifles. I recall lying in a hospital bed with Lyme Disease and arguing the issue with my roommate — an employee of a gun store. In the intervening years, I’ve softened my objections in that regard.

Some talk about gun buy back programs such as was done in New Zealand. I would actually have no problem with such a program — if and only if the collecting agency guarantees us that all the guns in the hands of bad guys have been collected and the bad guys could not resupply. Then and only then should we — the good guys — surrender ours. And even if the government guarantees it, who will believe them? They’re not even efficient in collecting taxes.

This could go on, but surely you get the gist. Almost assuredly, general agreement will never be achieved. There are those who blame firearms, ammo and manufacturers. Others blame the actual perpetrators. It all makes my head ache.

Rick Blatchford writes from Mount Airy. His column appears every other Saturday. Email him at