The Militia Acts of 1792 and their applicability today

I make no secret that I believe that every man and woman who can legally own a firearm in the United States is part of the unorganized militia. While legally this is not entirely true (see 10 USC 246), from a practical standpoint every individual is responsible for not only taking care of themselves and their families, but also their communities, states, and country.

The Founders believed that the militia could be called up for both foreign threats and for domestic threats, to assist law enforcement in their duties during times of unrest. Today, as we see riots in cities, natural disasters, and threats of man-made disasters such as terrorist attacks and foreign threats to our daily lives, I believe it is no less applicable.

So what was expected of the militia when it was created? Some of the first legislation regarding regulation of the militia were the Militia Acts of 1792. There were two acts passed in 1792 – one that gave the President the ability to call forth the militia and one that spelled out how it would be organized and equipped. We’ll focus on the second act because it’s most applicable to our discussion here. Key to this legislation is that it doesn’t prohibit conduct – instead it requires conduct. The reason I believe this to be key is that many people argue that “well-regulated” implies that bans of “military-style” weapons are allowed. I argue instead that “well-regulated” means properly trained and equipped.

So, what did the Militia Acts require? First, much like current law, they specified who was to be a part of the militia. Second, they specified that these new members of the militia were to arm themselves. The government did not issue them “military grade” weapons. They went down to their local arms purveyor and bought their own. There were specific requirements for both arms and ammunition:

a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder…and that from and after five years from the passing of this act, all muskets for arming the militia as herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for balls of the eighteenth part of a pound.

Officers had to buy swords, and certain required specialty units had to purchase their unit-specific equipment as well (like horses).

There were also inspections:

it shall be the duty of the brigade-inspector to attend the regimental and battalion meetings of the militia composing their several brigades, during the time of their being under arms, to inspect their arms, ammunition, and accoutrements; superintend their exercise and manœuvres, and introduce the system of military discipline before described throughout the brigade, agreeable to law, and such orders as they shall from time to time receive from the commander-in-chief of the state; to make returns to the adjutant-general of the state, at least once in every year, of the militia of the brigade to which he belongs, reporting therein the actual situation of the arms, accoutrements, and ammunition of the several corps, and every other thing which, in his judgment, may relate to their government and the general advancement of good order and military discipline;

This is what the Founding Fathers meant by well-regulated. Today this would probably look like a requirement for each member of the unorganized militia to own an AR-15, possibly an M9/M17/M18, 120-240 rounds of 5.56 ammunition (and 9mm pistol ammunition if required), load carriage equipment, and any wanted field gear. It would not look like Senate Bill 16 or Senate Bill 64.

Given the state of the world today, I believe we should be expanding the unorganized militia, not actively working to restrict it. I can’t possibly link every story available, but it has become very clear over the past few years that ordinary citizens often bear the brunt of natural disasters and other events. If politicians were truly serious about helping them, there would be a lot more focus on actively preparing people and a lot less on regulating them.

Hope this has been interesting and/or useful. If it has, feel free to comment and share. If you have any thoughts (for or against my argument), drop them below.

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