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A citizen militia is a group of citizens who are able and expected to defend their homeland in times of need. It is different from a military, which contains trained soldiers who work as soldiers full time. There are numerous different types of citizen militias, ranging from state organized militias such as the National Guard in the United States to groups of irregular and sometimes dangerous individuals who label themselves “militias” in developing nations. The role of a militia also varies widely, depending on its host nation, with some militias actively assisting their national governments and supplementing their national militaries, while others are actually partisans fighting against their governments.
The term “militia” is taken from the Latin miltes, for “soldier.” Groups of organized civilians differentiated from professional soldiers have been known as militias since the 17th century. In several countries, including England and the United States, the militia has a long and complex history, and several different legislative acts govern the precise role of the militia. As a general rule, anyone who is eligible for military service is technically considered a member of the citizen militia, whether or not he or she has received training.
Many private groups have created their own organized citizen militias. In the United States, some people think of these groups as extremist anti-government organizations, but some of them actually work extensively with their local governments and their activities are supported by the states in which they work. For a government, a well organized citizen militia is a useful tool, since it can be used to provide a pool of trained and dedicated individuals in the event of need.
In the United States, the role of the militia has been a topic of debate, thanks to discussion and confusion over the Second Amendment of the American Constitution, which concerns the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Some people argue that the Second Amendment only protects the right to carry weapons for those who are in organized militias, whether government sponsored or private. Others believe that the Second Amendment covers all able-bodied American men between 17-45, as these individuals are eligible for military service, while others say that this Amendment extends to all Americans.
Many countries have an organized citizen militia known as a national reserve or a national guard. In this case, people are given military training and they typically serve on brief rotations to keep their training current, but they are not full-time soldiers. Members of a government-organized militia may assist with disaster response, law enforcement, and other domestic issues. This organized citizen militia is also first on the list of people which will be called to arms in the event of a conflict.