To the Editor:
In the Dec. 27 Northwest Herald, Art Dulan asked, “How did a ‘well-regulated militia’ come to mean a ‘well-armed unregulated populace?’”
The 18th century definition of the word “militia” was, “The entire able-bodied population of a community, town, county, or state, available to be called to arms.”
Regarding the rationale for an armed general citizenry, i.e. militia, James Madison noted: “... It may well be doubted whether a militia thus circumstanced (armed as well as any standing army) could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Besides the advantage of being armed, it forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. The governments of Europe are afraid to trust the people with arms. If they did, the people would surely shake off the yoke of tyranny, as America did.
Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors.” (Source I Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789).
So, to answer the question, under the Constitution, “a well-regulated militia” always has meant “a well-armed unregulated populace.” And, they were originally expected to possess the same arms as any army, although that right has been restricted by subsequent federal and state laws.