LETTER: The Militia Is On Call
The following is a letter to the editor.
Westford Selectman Bob Jeffries recently offered a very interesting and provocative idea, when he called for the establishment of a Westford Militia at a recent meeting of the Town’s Board of Selectmen. Responding to concerns raised by the horrid tragedy in Newtown Connecticut, Mr. Jeffries is advancing this idea in the hope of achieving a more consistent application of the “ well regulated militia” clause, contained in the Second Amendment. Through this, he hopes to increase control and regulation of weapons owned by residents of the town. This approach is at best redundant. At worst, it could be interpreted by some constitutional purists as “seditious”
Before Mr. Jefferies and the Westford Board of Selectmen go too far down this road, they should review Massachusetts General Law Chapter 33, which establishes and regulates the Massachusetts state militia. This chapter contains some of the Commonwealth’s oldest statutes, some extending back to the seventeenth century Mass Bay Colony. These statutes are currently still in effect.
The chapter establishes two distinct elements within the state militia, the “organized” and “unorganized”. The “organized” element is what most of us know as the National Guard. Members regularly drill. Many of its units have been deployed to Iran and Afghanistan to support regular US Army operations.
The “unorganized” element is (as the law reads) comprised of every “able bodied male citizen…or those who have declared an intention to become citizens” residing in the Commonwealth, between the ages of “seventeen and forty-five”. The unorganized militia is subject to duty under the following conditions: “ during times of actual or threatened war, invasion, the prevention of invasion, the suppression of riots and assisting civil officers in the execution of law.”
The commander of the unorganized militia is a military officer, who comes under the authority of the Governor. When the “unorganized militia” is activated, Mr. Jeffries and the other Board members are required to play an active role in the mobilization process. The law actually requires them to conduct the muster in the town.
For the sake of the discussion, Mr. Jeffries would like to have on the issue of private ownership of weapons, I think it would be best to drop, at least this aspect. This matter has been well addressed in Massachusetts history and law. As law abiding citizens, I don’t’ think the residents of Westford want to give the impression that they are prepared to conduct their own ad hoc militia muster. That might make some people on Beacon Hill, particularly the Governor, very nervous. In fact it would reopen a Pandora’s box that has been closed since the suppression of Shays rebellion in 1782 in Petersham Ma.
Let’s have the discussion on gun ownership that Mr. Jeffries wants. It is an important one to have. But on the question of a militia, I recommend that we all let sleeping dogs lie. There is only one militia in Massachusetts and that militia has been perpetually on call since 1638 AD.