Peaceful and responsible private militias should be allowed to grow as freely as the riots they oppose. American communities would benefit substantially, and there would be no need for a politicized response from Washington, DC.
To many, talk of private militias sounds just as crazy as the times through which we’re currently living. How could private militias do anything but inflame a polarized country enduring economic and social upheaval? Wouldn’t they accelerate a violent breakdown of our society?
A proper understanding of militias can assuage such fears and illuminate the benefits of this once great institution of American life. As Ryan McMaken points out, “militias were considered to be common institutions central to civic and community life” in the 19th century. That traditional role for militias could be filled once again if there was popular demand and support.
The term itself, “militia,” may be too charged nowadays. But be it a safety committee, neighborhood protection team or community response unit, the essence is the same. For now, militia remains the best classification for a group of armed and trained volunteers.
There are three big reasons why reconstituting private militias could improve safety, peace and cohesion in American society.
First, there are the consequences of the recent record increase in personal firearm ownership. Gun retailers reported that 55.8% of their customers in the first six months of 2020 were white males, but the “highest overall firearm sales increase comes from Black men and women who show a 58.2% increase in purchases” compared to last year, according to the Firearm Industry Trade Association. (RELATED: Joe Biden Told Voters The Second Amendment Does Not Protect An Individual Right)
The rush of nearly five million first-time gun buyers entering the market since last year has impacted the availability of safety courses, shooting classes and personal training services. High demand also means high prices, so inexperienced gun owners who have less money may find it harder to get the training, practice and equipment they need from commercial sources.
Private militias would have incentive to help those in need in their community, both as a boost to their public image and potentially their membership as well. Over the last year there have surely been unexpected conversations springing up among friends and family, neighbors and congregants, as newbies seek out instruction and support. Casual one-on-one training can be great, but a militia could offer a more formal setting for more students at a time.
The second reason to support the development of militias is to preclude situations like the one faced by Mark and Patricia McCloskey in St. Louis, Missouri, or Jake Gardner in Omaha, Nebraska. They defended their lives and property with guns, but they couldn’t fend off the equally serious threat of their own governments, under mob pressure, politically persecuting them. (RELATED: 36 Virginians’ Firearms Seized Under New Law)
The McCloskey case is more well known. Following riots in other areas of St. Louis, protesters broke into their gated community and entered their property. The McCloskeys each held a firearm, and in some tense moments raised them toward the crowd. Despite their clear right to defend themselves and their property, they were both charged with felonies by a progressive circuit attorney and condemned in the media. Compare the treatment of the McCloskeys, a lone couple, versus the Latino groups that recently guarded their communities against would-be looters in Southern California and Chicago.
Jake Gardner’s story is more tragic. He committed suicide after being charged with manslaughter for the fatal shooting of a man who attacked him during riots in Omaha. He was initially cleared of any wrongdoing, as video indicated a case of self-defense. Again, mob justice demanded a prosecution, so a special prosecutor was assigned, returning a grand jury indictment for Gardner. That he was a wounded war veteran with brain injuries and also lost his business lease as a result of the shooting were seen as contributing factors to his sudden suicide.
From these events, Americans should learn to never be caught alone defending their life or property if it can be avoided. The only life-preserving logical step forward is to join up with others as a community or organization.
If the McCloskeys had had neighborhood backup or if Gardner’s business was protected by well-trained volunteers, their situations may have never escalated to the point of raising or firing guns at all. Additionally, the political and media fallout probably wouldn’t have been as harmful to any particular individuals.
The key would be a well-trained group of armed volunteers, to avoid something like what happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A hastily organized group of armed men gathered to protect a local business’s last of three car lots from being burned down. While they protected the property successfully as a group, once one member got separated, the consequences were deadly. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has a strong claim to self-defense, but he is being outrageously charged with premeditated murder, in another transparently political prosecution.
No militia should have to be slapped together haphazardly. Having a permanent organization, thoroughly knowledgeable of local laws, and “well regulated” in the best sense of the Second Amendment, could avoid such incidents during riots. (RELATED: DEMINT: How A Big Blue Lie Fueled A Summer Of Riots)
This leads to the third reason a private militia system is so needed. The preservation of community cannot be dependent on government systems — like local police — that led to the exposure of their vulnerabilities in the first place. That doesn’t mean defunding or abolishing the police, but the core issue is whether the community is protected by those who love it.
Strong communities are built around institutions like family, church and systems of civic and economic cohesion. As noted above, militias were once important civic institutions that shared in community life, preserved it and contributed to its members’ formations. They can fill that role again.
In places hardest hit by marauding rioters, militias are already making a comeback. That’s because Americans of every race still love their neighborhoods, churches, homes and businesses. They hate to see them treated as anything less than what they are — namely, everything.
Federal officers cracking down on chaotic cities were welcomed with sighs of relief from many quarters, but this must not be allowed to become the norm. Security via jackboot may mean less riots, but it would also mean less community: the thing we should protect in the first place.
Americans of all backgrounds are turning to personal firearms ownership as trust in government falls. Within this crisis, there is an opportunity for all communities to benefit from peaceful, responsible and voluntary organizing for armed protection. It’s what the country needs.
Nick Hankoff is a writer, editor, and host of a podcast at, where his other writing for the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Advocates for Self-Government can also be found. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife and their three children.
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