Monday, May 20, 2013

"a right which will be assumed whether the law preserves it or not"

"But even suppose the sentiment of hostility to the militia should dominate the Legislature for years, and appropriations should be withheld until the Missouri National Guard dies of inanition, what then? One of three things must happen in times of riot. The Governor of the State will be compelled to make requisition upon the President of the United States for national troops--a ludicrous result for those who hate military power--or the police must expand in numbers and increase in efficiency until it equals a militia in power, or else an irregular police or militia will be formed by the citizens, under the name of "regulators," "friends of law and order," or any of the names honest citizens are wont to take when the weakness or pusillanimity of their government has forced them to assume extraordinary powers. Order will be restored somehow, militia or no militia, police or no police, law or no law. This needs no proof. It is a settled fact in the history of civilized communities. If a Governor like the present incumbent in Missouri should be as slow in making requisition for United States troops as he was in calling out troops last year, and deputy-sheriffs should prove as ineffective, the right of individuals to combine in self-defence would surely be put to the test. Happily in Missouri this right is guaranteed by the State Constitution, for, although it may seem superfluous to preserve by law a right which will be assumed whether the law preserves it or not, it is as a matter of fact, an immense assistance in the assumption of extraordinary powers to know that they may be assumed lawfully. For this reason the clause in the Constitution of Missouri which provides "that the right of the people to bear arms in self-defence and in defence of the lawful authority of the State cannot be questioned," might well become a rallying-point for the orderly elements of the State. The people may bear arms and may use them in self-defence and defence of lawful authority. Nor is this right limited by the statute against carrying concealed weapons, for that makes an express exception in favor of carrying weapons in defence of person, home, or property. The Missourian who carries a weapon when threatened by such letters as the Knights of Labor sent the engineers and firemen of the Missouri Pacific Railroad last year, is acting under the law, and, what is more, is acting under a right which the Legislature could not take away from him.
   But far more important than the right of self-defence is the right to bear arms in defence of the lawful authority of the State. This right, taken in connection with statutory provisions for suppressing riots by the civil authorities, renders it possible for the indignation of law-abiding citizens against mobs and rioters to take formidable and effective shape. Besides the usual authority vested in the mayor of any town or the sheriff of any county to call upon citizens to assist in suppressing a riot, and providing that the pay of citizens so employed shall be the same as that of militia in active service, there is another remedy, without waiting for the initiative from sheriff or mayor. If a large body of men are assembled in a threatening or riotous manner, a private citizen may give notice of it to the Mayor, a member of the Board of Aldermen, or Legislative Council of any city or town, or to a sheriff, coroner, or marshal, or any of their deputies, or to any justice of the peace. It is then the duty of the officer so notified to approach the rioters as nearly as he can with safety, and command them to disperse, and, if they do not comply, to command all bystanders to arrest them. Now, though the mayor of a city may refuse to do his duty, it would be strange if one decent man among all the officers enumerated could not be found, especially as a refusal to act after notice is visited with a fine not exceeding $500; and, the right officer once found, citizens armed to the teeth could accompany him for the constitutional purpose of defending lawful authority, and, when called upon by the officer to arrest rioters refusing to disperse, could use all due force to accomplish the arrest. If the citizens should kill or wound any of the rioters in their endeavors to make arrests, they would be held guiltless, while the death or injury of one of the citizens would make all the rioters answerable for it.
   This method of suppressing a riot does not appear to be an impracticable one. When, during the Southwestern strike of last year, the large railroad yards in St. Louis were tilled by the Knights of Labor on the pretence of protecting them, the corporation might have called upon a friendly justice of the peace to undertake the duty of warning them away, and might have sent armed Pinkerton men with him. If the Pinkerton men were citizens of the State, their right to bear arms in such a case "could not be questioned," and, if citizens of another State, the Constitution of the United States would clothe them with the privileges of citizens of the State. In this way, without the delay and difficulty of getting special police licenses, the corporation would obtain a disciplined force acting under law. Throughout the Southwestern strike the Knights showed a wholesome fear of coming into conflict with the authorities of the United States, undoubtedly because they had been taught by experience that the United States could legally use force, and would use it if necessary. A few trials against armed bodies of men acting under the State law would give them such a respect for its civil authorities that they would welcome back the militia with joy."


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