Our forefathers understood that when a nation disarms its citizens and ceases to depend on militias for its defense, a fundamental shift in the focus of national identity always follows. Like England, whom they learned from, a nation that abandons private citizen militias will soon rely on standing armies, inevitably embark on imperialistic policies abroad, and institute authoritarian rule at home. Trained in the classics, they also knew the ultimate end of a nation that takes this course is self-destruction.
Our constitution is a testament to the distrust our forefathers had for centralized government and its monopoly on armed force. It authorizes the government to raise armies and navies, but it also recognizes the right of private militias to exist separate from the government. In fact, these private militias were considered the backbone of all national defenses. Much has changed since Lexington and Concord. State after state has moved to limit private ownership and the U.S. federal government has seemingly ignored every warning left to us by those who built this country with their fame, fortunes, and often their very lives.
Switzerland: An Example to Look To
Much like the colonies of America, Switzerland gained its independence in the fourteenth century in a war waged by an armed citizenry. Much of Switzerland’s government resembles what our founders established in 1776: a weak central government exercising limited and defined powers that pertain mainly to external affairs and limited authority over the internal matters of states (or cantons in Switzerland). Not only do the Swiss have a weak central government, but they are proud of it. The general feeling in Switzerland is that strong central government diminishes the initiative of private citizens and discourages individual responsibility.
Nowhere is that belief in an empowered citizenry seen better than in the Swiss concept of national defense. One official publication declares, “The Swiss do not have an army, they are the army.” Adam Smith, the eighteenth century economist, saw Switzerland as the only country he knew of where the entire body of people was effectively drilled in militia skills.
In Switzerland, gun ownership is considered public duty. As a result, every able-bodied male at the age of twenty-one is given seventeen weeks of military training. Over the next thirty years, each man engages in mandatory training amounting to about one year of direct military service. Until he reaches the age of fifty-five, he remains on reserve status. Enlisted men take their automatic-assault rifles home with them, and officers carry their weapons, ammunition, and all necessary equipment and supplies home as well. In a country with a crime rate so low statistics aren’t even recorded, just about everyone can purchase machine guns, antiaircraft and antitank weapons, and artillery pieces.
One legendary story from the beginning of the twentieth century relates a conversation between the kaiser of Germany and a commander of Swiss militia. He asked how many men the Swiss commander had available from the private militia. When the commander answered one million, the Kaiser asked what would happen if five million of his troops invaded the Swiss border. The Swiss commander replied that each of his men would fire five shots and return home with Switzerland safe. Perhaps there are other reasons Germans scrapped plans to pass through Switzerland in a flanking move of France, but most Swiss think not.
Things are much more certain about the events of World War II. During that war, Hitler set his eyes on Switzerland’s vast gold reserves. He also saw the small country as a much-needed location for supply and communication lines for his Axis forces in Italy. But after a detailed analysis of Switzerland’s armed citizenry, rugged terrain, fortifications, and civil-defense preparations, German military planners decided to abandon any ideas of invasion.
In spite of this glowing testament to a well-armed citizenry, the rest of Europe and Great Britain have forgotten its sordid history of feudal lords and have disarmed the “private” citizen. The British government disarmed its citizens in 1920 on the alleged reason of reducing crime.
In truth, the ruling class feared a popular revolution due to the bankruptcy of the British nation in 1916 and the appalling casualty rate of World War I. Massive unemployment, starvation, and the war’s casualty rate could not, by 1919, be overlooked any longer. Perhaps the possibility of violent revolution was overstated, but there is no doubt the crime rate in England has done nothing but increase since private citizens were disarmed.
Since ancient times, armed individuals organized into militias have not only been the best method of preventing one ruler from gaining too much power, but also the least costly method of defense against invasion. In spite of Switzerland’s example and overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary, our nation still seems headed toward disarming private citizens. Eldridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, said, “Whenever Governments mean to invade the Rights and Liberties of the People they always attempt to destroy the Militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”
For hundreds of years, game laws and gun control have been the methods of choice for the ruling elite to control the populace. Only those with a license were allowed to hunt and licenses were restricted to the nobility and those in political favor. Even Blackstone in his Commentaries noted, “Prevention of popular insurrections and resistance to the government by disarming the bulk of the people . . . is a reason oftener meant …by the makers of the forest and game laws.” By mere coincidence, only licensed hunting is legal today, even on private property, and hunters are under increasing attack. One can only wonder if motivations have really changed that much.
Patrick Henry warned future generations to “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined.”