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The Dick Act and Gun Control

The first federal statutes governing the Militia of the United States were enacted in 1792.  There were some revisions in 1795. During the Civil War, an amendment removed the language that had restricted federal militia membership to free whites.

The old militia statutes were repealed and replaced by the Militia Act of 1903, 32 Stat. 775, commonly known as the ‘‘Dick Act’’ for its sponsor Representative Charles W.F. Dick, a Major General in the Ohio National Guard.

The Dick Act gave formal federal recognition—and financial support—to the National Guard, which had begun as a volunteer state-based civic organization after the Civil War. According to the Dick Act, the ‘‘organized militia’’ of the United States is the National Guard, plus Naval Militias maintained by some states. 10 U.S.C. §311(b)(1).

The Dick Act also defines the ‘‘unorganized militia.’’ The unorganized militia is all able-bodied men between 17 and 44 years of age who are United States citizens (or ‘‘have made a declaration of intention to become
citizens’’), and who do not belong to the organized militia. 10 U.S.C. §311(a), (b)(2). They are subject to call-up by the federal government in order to ‘‘execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections [or] repel Invasions,’’ under the Constitution’s Militia Clauses. (Clause 15 of Article I, sect. 8 is the “Calling Forth” clause. Clause 16 grants Congress the power to organize, arm, and discipline the militia.)

The best book on the early history of the National Guard, including the Dick Act, is Jerry M. Cooper, The Rise of the National Guard: The Evolution of the American Militia, 1865-1920 (2002). During the late 19th and early 20th century, the National Guard and the National Rifle Association were very closely intertwined.

The Dick Act has long been a part of the Second Amendment debate in the United […]

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