Last Updated on August 20, 2022 by Constitutional Militia
Militiamen: Arms Kept in the Home
The widespread private ownership of firearms suitable for service in the Militia created a peculiar kind of private property that served a public, governmental, and even sovereign function as the means by which the community itself directly exercised the most fundamental and important of all political and legal powers: the Power of the Sword.
Militiamen maintain possession of service firearms in their own homes according to law
From the earliest days in America, whether a firearm, ammunition, and accoutrements for use in the Militia were his own personal property (in the case of most able-bodied free men), or public property (in the case of some poor individuals), almost all such equipment was to be maintained at all times in each individual’s personal possession at home, within his own immediate control, not in a governmental magazine, arsenal, armory, or other remote location under someone else’s control.
In the pre-constitutional period Local governments did maintain their own magazines for storage of firearms and ammunition the public owned. And, to minimize the danger from conflagrations in Towns largely constructed of wood, and in which open fires were constantly burning as the sources of heat and light, private citizens were required to store excessively large quantities of explosive black powder in public magazines. But it was always presumed that private powder stored for common safety’s sake in public magazines would be returned to its owners on demand. Indeed, in 1774 patriots were given “reason to apprehend some hostile intention against” Boston, when her military governor, General Thomas Gage, “in a very extraordinary manner”, “forb[ade] the keeper of the magazine at Boston, to deliver out to the owners, the powder, which they had lodged” there. So, until Gage embarked on a scheme for disarming American patriots, aimed at rendering them helpless against British oppression, the existence and use of public magazines in no way limited the ability of common citizens to retain firearms and sufficient powder in their own homes at all times, in order for them to remain suitably provisioned against every hazard.
If members of the Militia had not kept their own firearms, ammunition, and accoutrements in their own homes, Rhode Island would have been patently unjust to fine them, as she did, for reporting to Militia service without that equipment.
Firearms privately owned became the most important of all property, private or public, because in the final analysis the security of all other property depended upon them.