The United States is by no means an old country when compared to the thousand year old+ nations of Old Europe and Asia. Born long after the age of swords and clubs, it was a country born with and through the judicious use of firearms. However, since our birth we have slowly been disarming, even as the world around us grows closer and more unstable. Let's take a comparative look at where we were in 1812 and 1912 compared with today for some perspective.
The militia of the War of 1812 were citizen soldiers, often armed with their own weapons, they faced off with the most professional army in the world.
In the 18 states that made up the United State in 1812 held some 7,239,881 people. Among the population were registered over 525,000 citizens (including 30,000 officers) in the local militia. That was a good thing because the country only had a 7,000-man standing Army and a token Navy. These figures meant that there were 0.48 soldiers and about 36 militiamen for every 500 citizens.
These forces were inadequate to defend the country from the British in the War of 1812. Looking at the scorecard from that conflict, the majority of the regular army was defeated in a failed invasion of Canada, Washington was burned to the ground, and US overseas trade was crippled. We didn't so much win the war as much as we just didn't lose it.
Just short of two hundred years ago, the British had a redecorating committee in President Madison's White House.
The United States of 1912 was vastly different from the country it had been a hundred years before. To protect the 48 states there was the world's fourth largest navy and a 92,000 man Army. However much like today's military, it was overextended. More than half of both services were deployed to Cuba, the border with Mexico, and the Philippines-- where they were fighting Muslim insurgents. The National Guard (formed in 1903 from the State Militias) totaled some 119,087 armed and organized men. These figures meant that there were 0.5 soldiers and 0.72 militiamen for every 500 citizens.
The National Guard of 1912 was a tiny tiny force, and used primarily for riot control, strike busting, and natural disaster response.
The country was ill prepared for the coming First World War and a massive mobilization was required in 1917.
A brave new world we live in today. The United States has been embroiled in a decade's long Global War on Terrorism around the planet. Today the world's largest Navy protects us alongside the most technologically advanced Air Force on earth. However, our Army, with some 561,000 active members, is the 7th largest in the world (behind China, India, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, and South Korea). While this sounds like a lot of soldiers, there are only 0.9 US GIs for every 500 citizens. Moreover, the Army National Guard maintains a force of 362,000 or 0.58 per every 500 citizens-- about the same size per capita (and in some cases even smaller than) as the 1812 and 1912 armies which historians rank as small and unprepared.
There are also 683,396 full time state, city, university and college, metropolitan and non-metropolitan county, and other law enforcement officers to protect the 311,000,000 citizens, or about 1 per 500 citizens.
Today's National Guard and military forces are deployed worldwide. This leaves the security of the interior often in the hands of local law enforcement and armed citizens.
With unprecedented threats to the Homeland, coupled with the fact that a foreign terrorist is just a plane ride away, the oceans no longer isolate the United States. While the likelihood of a Red Dawn-style invasion is slim, an asymmetric attack by a terrorist group on the Mumbai-type is very possible. Odds are, with the slow and steady disarmament the country has experienced over the past two hundred years, the military may not be able to rapidly respond. Instead of first responders backed up by a National Guard, it may be armed civilian 'instant responders' who have to react first to save lives.
Luckily, we have over 103 million firearms owners in the US, or about 167 for every 500 citizens. This, as you can see, is one great equalizer.
Thank you, ladies, and gentlemen, for your service.