Slaves Are Issued Weapons; Free People Own Them

A popular bumper sticker proclaims that free people own guns, while slaves do not.  History shows, however, that masters have often issued weapons to slaves under conditions in which the latter's socioeconomic standing made rebellion unlikely.  History also shows that, despite efforts by Bill Clinton's and Barack Obama's Supreme Court Justices to amend the Constitution without the consent of the states or Congress (see Squealer the Pig in George Orwell's Animal Farm), the Second Amendment is an individual right.

We once received a jury notice summons that warned of "bodily attachment" if we failed to either respond or comply.  The practice is more than two thousand years old -- ancient Athens owned a police force of Scythian archers, one of whose functions was to round up negligent citizens for civic duties.  The slave-police used dye-impregnated ropes to mark delinquents, who were fined or had to forfeit their stipend for attendance.  The Greek citizen-soldier himself, however, was expected to own weapons.  The bronze armor of the hoplite, or armored infantryman, was extremely expensive, so only wealthy landowners could afford to be hoplites.  This is why everybody in the Iliad was so obsessed with capturing armor or saving it from the enemy.

Later, the Ottoman Empire employed the devshirme ("child-gathering") system, in which authorities took male Christian children for conversion to Islam followed by either civil or military service.  Those drafted for the latter became Janissaries, who were the property of the sultan.  Parents often put their sons forward for the devshirme because a Janissary's social status, privileges, and regular pay were far more than the boys could hope for as "free" second-class citizens in their Balkan homelands.

A Mameluke also was a slave-soldier, and the word means literally "owned."  "Mamluks were proud of their origin as slaves and only those who were purchased were eligible to attain the highest positions. The privileges associated with being a mamluk were so desirable that many free Egyptians arranged themselves to be sold in order to gain access to this privileged society."  Janissaries and Mamelukes underscore Robert Heinlein's observation that chains are not necessary to enslave somebody who does not understand the concept of freedom.

"Well-Regulated Militias" Consist of Armed Citizens

We have already seen that Greek citizen-soldiers were not only allowed, but expected to own weapons.  The same was true of European knights, but England's most effective soldiers, specifically its longbowmen, were similarly encouraged to own weapons far more effective than any rifle deployed prior to the breech-loading von Dreyse needle gun.  A longbow could, like the Baker Rifle depicted in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, reach out beyond 200 yards to hit a target.  A longbowman could, however, have picked off half a dozen or so French Voltigeurs while somebody like Daniel Hagman or his real-life counterpart Thomas Plunkett was still reloading after his first.  A German sergeant of the Second World War, meanwhile, had the dubious distinction of being the last man to have actually been shot in anger by a longbow archer, John Malcolm "Mad Jack" Churchill.

The musket superseded the longbow not because it was in any way superior, but instead because any man off the street could take the King's Shilling and learn to use one.  A king could afford a standing army of musketeers who would serve for sixpence a day (in the money of the late 18th century).  Longbowmen were so expensive that they could be called up only during time of need.  This arrangement required private ownership of the weapons in question along with a tradition of civilian marksmanship that predates that of the United States by centuries.  King Edward I forbade the practice of any sport but archery on Sundays to make sure his well-regulated militia stayed in practice.

The longbow's ability to kill silently and invisibly (unless one actually saw the arrow coming) at long range should have made it a particularly effective means for what the Violence Policy Center calls "voting from the rooftops."  Queen Elizabeth I, however, made it emphatically clear at Tilbury that she was not worried about armed subjects despite the death fatwa that Pope Gregory XIII had issued against her.

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, meanwhile, preceded the United States in civil rights such as freedom of religion and free speech.  Poland had no laws against private ownership of weapons even by peasants, while nobles (szlachta) were expected to carry swords in public as a symbol of their readiness to defend their society.  A soldier in Poland's most prestigious cavalry arm, the Husaria, had to supply not only his own sword, firearms, and horse, but also servants to care for the horse.  He was issued only a kopia, a long lance that outreached enemy pikes.  Its hollow cross-section (to reduce its weight) made it both costly and expendable, so it was reasonable for the government to replace those that were used in battle.

Poland's weapon non-control laws served it well during the Swedish invasion of 1655, when armed peasants fell upon the invaders and made it impossible for them to forage for food in small groups.  Poland and the United States incidentally share the distinction of refusing to surrender after loss of their capitals -- Poland during the Swedish and Nazi invasions, and the United States during the War of Independence and War of 1812.  This shows that what Carl von Clausewitz would have called a free country's center of gravity -- the element whose overthrow results in the nation's defeat -- lies not in the seat of government, but rather in the loyalty and commitment of its citizens, which returns us to Elizabeth I's speech at Tilbury.

If there is any remaining doubt that a "well-regulated militia" -- and "regulated" as used during the late 18th century suggested "drilled" or "trained" as opposed to "controlled" -- refers to armed citizens, the Militia Act of 1801 removes any remaining doubt: "That every citizen [between 18 and 45] so enrolled and notified shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare [musket] flints and a knapsack," and no fewer than twenty-four rounds of ammunition.  This statement may be compared to Heinrich Himmler's "Germans who wish to use firearms should join the SS or the SA -- ordinary citizens don't need guns, as their having guns doesn't serve the State."  Res ipsa loquitur -- the thing speaks for itself.

William A. Levinson, P.E. is the author of several books on business management including content on organizational psychology, as well as manufacturing productivity and quality.

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