Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Guns, “Gun Control,” and School Massacres (Part The Fifth) — “Four Dead in O-HI-O”

When May 4 rolled around for another year this past time, the anniversary of the Kent State Massacre of 1970, I was jolted into the realization that, curiously, something is missing from the discussion on guns, gun control, and school massacres: you don’t hear about the National Guard in the discussion. This seems strange to me, as the militia talked about in the Second Amendment is often conceptually connected with the citizen soldiers of the National Guard units scattered throughout our nation (Can you think of a more “well-regulated” militia than the local National Guard?); it seems nowadays that the National Guard makes national attention only as part of disaster relief — a job important enough, for sure, but a job that is a far cry from the “last line of defense” role the Guard played during the long-ago days of the Cold War.

Why is the National Guard today disconnected from the Second Amendment, and, therefore, AWOL from the issues dealt with in this series of postings?

Checking the details from the Kent State Massacre, I think I know why. The National Guard missing from discussions on gun control may not seem relevant, and I am perfectly willing to concede including the Guard in them is “stretching a point” beyond credulity, but, on reflection, not quite. The National Guard and the Second Amendment are inseparable, in my opinion; the amendment is the justification of the Guard’s creation. So, again, why are neither the gun lobby nor the anti-gun, anti-violence movement speaking of the National Guard? And this silence, despite the fact the two groups are politically at opposite ends of the spectrum?

The answer is: Both ends of the political spectrum had the National Guard redefined for them by historical events, events in the social revolution of the United States following WWII. Those too young to remember experiencing those events can be forgiven for not knowing the answer.

The conservative/liberal labeling is often tedious and so useless, as there are lots of hybrids on the political spectrum — conservative liberals and liberal conservatives (neither of which is oxymoronic) — but just as often this labeling can nonetheless be employed, depending upon the circumstances. This posting is, in my opinion, one such circumstance, but, to avoid too much eye-rolling for the reader I shall use “left” and “right” instead. The right lost its regard for the National Guard early in the civil rights movement when Eisenhower called federal troops into Little Rock schools to safeguard African-Americans attending public schools, troops replacing the Arkansas National Guard used to literally “stand” for segregation.   The National Guard appeared impotent, in the eyes of the right — “useless” to prevent “federal intervention into State affairs.”  The outcome of the Civil War basically allowed federal interests to always trump State interests; given any State’s National Guard simultaneously receiving contradictory orders, one from the State and one from Washington D.C., the latter would have to be followed, regardless of local sentiments. Thus, to the shock of many Southerners and States’ Rights advocates everywhere, the Arkansas National Guard had to do the bidding of President Eisenhower or step aside; in the Little Rock schools, they stepped aside. No matter how differently conceived was the “well-regulated Militia” in the minds of the writers of the Second Amendment, our local militias were tweaked after WWII to include doing the national government’s bidding in local situations (those excluding natural disasters) where what is seen as the best interests of the entire nation would best be served, protected, and enforced by local authority that must answer to federal orders. The idea in such situations, probably, was that any local resentment to federal policy might be “cooled” if enforcement of that policy was done by “our” local citizen soldiers; if they did not do the federal government’s bidding, then, in come the federal troops.

So the political right disenfranchised themselves from the idea the National Guard is the guardian of local citizens’ rights and freedoms — i.e. the “well-regulated Militia” of the Second Amendment. From whence, then, will the Militia grow in the minds of the right? From gun-owning private citizens lionized by the gun lobby, led by the example of the NRA. But this smacks of vigilantes, posses, guerrilla warfare, special forces on secret missions, and terrorism; that the NRA seems not concerned with this implication is disturbing, to say the least. The NRA seems not bothered by the fact their concept of the militia is similar to that of the many radical “militia movements” in the US, such as the one with which Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, was associated.

But the political left disenfranchised themselves also from the idea the National Guard is the guardian of local citizens’ rights and freedoms through events like Kent State. This time, in 1970, the governor of Ohio called out the Ohio National Guard to counter anti-war protests on campus in the wake of Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. It was a time when college students were old enough to die for their country, but were not old enough to vote on who would send them to possibly die overseas. Despite the famous images of peaceful protestors placing stems of flowers in the barrels of the soldiers’ rifles, 67 rounds were fired into the ranks of the unarmed students over 13 seconds and four student anti-war martyrs were left dead on campus — Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Knox Schroeder — along with reports from four to nine injured. The Kent State Massacre occurred in a flash; within two weeks or so, Neil Young, of the group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, penned, in a “writer’s flash,” the song commemorating the event, and in the summer of 1970 radio stations rang out the haunting chorus of “Ohio,” sounding like a rallying mantra:

Four dead in O-HI-O!

Four dead in O-HI-O!

Four dead in O-HI-O!

Four dead in O-HI-O!

Kent State was like a “crossing of the Rubicon” event; the war had to end soon or the country was literally going to tear apart, mostly along generational lines. Watergate occurred three years later, and soon Nixon would be gone, along with the war.

The political left added the National Guard to their vision of “the military-industrial complex” — part of the authority threatening the foundation of our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. For the left any “well regulated Militia,” such as that mentioned in the Second Amendment was regarded as something that would hopefully never be needed. To arm even citizen soldiers that you knew would risk turning them into pawns of State and/or national authority capable of turning those same familiar soldier-faces into murderers of the innocent.

Ironically, the two opposite “ends” of the political spectrum took the National Guard out of the gun-rights, Second Amendment discussion for the same reasons (They probably never thought about it, but the two “ends” were actually agreeing!): the National Guard was “written off,” forcing both ends to reinterpret the Second Amendment, as threats to citizens’ personal rights and freedoms. Neither the Eisenhower Administration nor the State government of Ohio intended the National Guard to “come off” as it did in both cases, but “coming off with a public black eye” it did, rightly or wrongly.

Because of these days of bipolar partisan politics, the political spectrum appears more dumb-bell-like than a homogeneous horizontal bar — both ends, right and left, “heavy” with most of the population, sometimes it seems. The “middle” between the ends is often called “moderate,” and I suspect, because no two individuals have the exact same political, religious, or culture positions, the bar is more homogeneous than the media nowadays leads us to believe.

In the spirit of that thought, I would like to propose the following: Reach back into the pre-Revolutionary War history of the citizen militia and link it to the modern-day National Guard across the centuries. Specifically call the “well regulated Militia” of the Second Amendment the National Guard. The National Guard, in addition to being the citizens’ guardian against looting, crime, and violence in times of national or local disaster (natural or otherwise), it is the citizens’ guard against threats to our nation, both internal and external — in times of foreign invasion of our soil and in times of violent upheaval among us.

To keep the “good name” of our Militia (our National Guard), power to employ the Guard should be “spread out” to an “emergency action committee” consisting of the President, the US Senate, and the governors of all fifty States, for a committee of 151; in our electronic media age “instant communication” is at hand for all of this committee. Should an emergency arise calling for the possible intervention of the National Guard, the President is required to call for a vote of this committee that must be completed within 24 hours. Any vote not in from a committee member is treated as an abstention (The vote “ends” absolutely after 24 hours.). A simple majority of the votes determines whether the Guard of the States or State involved is “called out” or not. Should the number of votes be an even number and the vote is a tie, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court is asked to immediately break that tie. When the committee votes to “call out” the Guard, the governors of the States or State involved with the emergency then take their traditional executive action.

It is my opinion that if such a committee for the calling out of the Guard had been in place at the two historical events described above (events that estranged the National Guard from both ends of the political spectrum), the Guard would have been in the Little Rock schools seen as executing the will of the majority of Americans, and the Kent State Massacre would never had happened, most of the country having had seen student protestors as no threat to national security.

With the National Guard connected, as it should be, to me, with the Second Amendment, the Second Amendment arguments of the NRA and the gun lobby are rendered moot. The National Guard is rightly seen as citizens bearing arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Individual gun ownership by citizens for recreational purposes (hunting, gun clubs, gun shows, etc.) is but coincidental bearing of arms by citizens, not guaranteed specifically by the Second Amendment, but, rather, guaranteed by the de facto personal use of guns by many Americans since before our nation was founded — by the historical “love affair” of Americans with guns. That the percentage of Americans carrying on that “love affair” appears to be shrinking, as our frontier is shrinking, is equally moot. Even if someday, no “ordinary” citizen owns and shoots a gun, our Militia will be armed and ready for the protection of all citizens, if needed. Personally, I see a perpetual small group of citizens carrying on their “love affair” with guns without end, ready to join up with the Militia, the National Guard, with their own guns, if necessary, just as farmers and hunters joined up with the local militias in the days the American Revolution.

Guns are with us to stay (Part The First), the Second Amendment is being abused (Part The Second), not everyone needs to shoot guns (Part The Third), and the gun industry needs to be exposed as part of the still-ongoing military-industrial complex (Part The Fourth). It is possible sense can be made and achieved from seemingly irreconcilable differences and complexity, assuring the safety of both our rights and of our school children, through, of all things, adjusting our views on those descendants of the Revolutionary Minute Men, the National Guard.


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