THE IDEA OF a militia – that is a group of armed citizens that enter military service in time of need – has a long and contentious history in the United States.
The legal and constitutional ramifications of militias have stirred fierce debate recently, reinvigorated by the armed militants that took over federal land in Oregon in 2016. Yet the social and political issues surrounding the use of armed civilians during wartime has been a part of the American experience as far back as the colonial period. And though the issue is complicated, with a little effort we can trace how the fundamental idea of the militia has changed over time to where it exists in state and federal laws today.
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