Justice Scalia on the Historical Reasons for an Armed Militia

On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court affirmed by a vote of 5 to 4 the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Heller v. District of Columbia.

District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), is a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home, and that Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban and requirement that lawfully-owned rifles and shotguns be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock” violated this guarantee. It also stated that the right to bear arms is not unlimited and that guns and gun ownership would continue to be regulated. Due to Washington, D.C.’s special status as a federal district, the decision did not address the question of whether the Second Amendment’s protections are incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against the states, which was addressed two years later by McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) in which it was found that they are. It was the first Supreme Court case to decide whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

Justice Scalia wrote the Opinion of the Court. I recommend that you read his very scholarly decision to get a good understanding of the historical arguments for this debate.

Considering that Scalia was a proud “originalist” and “conservative”, the following paragraph stood out to me:

There are many reasons why the militia was thought to be “necessary to the security of a free state.” See 3 Story §1890. First, of course, it is useful in repelling invasions and suppressing insurrections. Second, it renders large standing armies unnecessary—an argument that Alexander Hamilton made in favor of federal control over the militia. The Federalist No. 29, pp. 226, 227 (B. Wright ed. 1961) (A. Hamilton). Third, when the able-bodied men of a nation are trained in arms and organized, they are better able to resist tyranny.

Scalia touches on the most important question of them all: Why did the founders want the people to have guns in the first place?

Well, Scalia knows the answers all too well:

  1. As stated in the Amendment itself, the new nation needed militias since there wasn’t much of a standing army. The nation needed to form and preserve militias to efficiently create a military force from its citizenry to combat the “tyranny” of the English.
  2. The second major reason, as Scalia so eloquently put it, was for “suppressing insurrections”. That is, the guns were need to control the enslaved African population. The slaves master simply had to have guns.
  3. The last major reason was to wage war on the Native American nations. This was ultimately the way in which the country we know today was established. You need guns if you’re going to destroy and depopulate the inhabitants of their land.

So, where does that leave us? Let’s answer these question from the perspective of the modern era:

  1. Are the British or any other foreign power coming to invade our country?
  2. Do we have a standing army and an organized security force?
  3. Do we need to control slaves?
  4. Do we need to kill off the remaining Native Americans of their lands?

As you can see, the answers to these questions reveal that the intentions of the 2nd Amendment are no longer applicable.

That’s not to say that new arguments have not been developed in support of 2nd Amendment rights. I tackled these modern arguments in an article titled Gun Control: Three Unorthodox Arguments in Support of a Better World.

Thanks for reading,



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