The Second Amendment is very ambiguous. “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Some people read it and believe that it means only the military can have arms. To understand what the Founding Fathers meant when writing the second amendment, you have to read what they wrote and/or said about it. You’ll find what they meant by “militia” was the average law-abiding citizen, properly trained in the use of firearms. These citizens would have arms to protect themselves and come together to protect their community, state or country in time of need. In the late 1700s, an armed citizenry was not a new idea.
The English Bill of Rights 1689 established the right of all to bear arms for personal defense. (Bill of Rights 1689). Sir William Blackstone, 18th century judge and politician, wrote of the “natural right of resistance and self-preservation when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.” (Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England).
The courts determined in US v. Cruikshank in 1876 and Presser v. Illinois in 1886 that the Second Amendment protected the right to bear arms from being infringed upon by Congress (United States v. Cruikshank).
In US v. Emerson in 2001, Judge Garwood wrote, “…there are numerous instances of the phrase ‘bear arms’ being used to describe a civilian’s carrying of arms. Early constitutional provisions or declarations of rights in at least some ten different states speak of the right of the ‘people’ [or ‘citizen’ or ‘citizens’] “to bear arms in defense of themselves [or ‘himself’] and the state,’ or equivalent words, thus indisputably reflecting that under common usage ‘bear arms’ was in no sense restricted to bearing arms in military service. (United States v. Emerson)
In 2008 during District of Columbia v. Heller, the court ruled that the amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms without serving in a militia (Right to Keep and Bear Arms in the United States).
Senator Orin Hatch pointed out that the 1st and 4th amendments state the “right of the people” and that no one disputes that as an individual guarantee. (Hardy, 2001).
Irregardless of these legal issues, to understand the intent of the 2nd amendment, you need to understand the thoughts of the individuals that provided input to the development of the Constitution. Note: Irregardless is a word. (ttp://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Irregardless)
“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” — Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776 (No freeman…)
“Laws that forbid the carrying of arms. . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” — Jefferson`s “Commonplace Book,” 1774-1776, quoting from On Crimes and Punishment, by criminologist Cesare Beccaria, 1764 (Halbrook, The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, 2008)
“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” (Thomas Jefferson to William Smith)
“[W]hen the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually.”. . . I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.” — Virginia`s U.S. Constitution ratification convention, 1788 (Straub, The Truth About Guns That Liberals Don’t Want You To Know)
“The said Constitution [shall] be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.” — Massachusetts` U.S. Constitution ratification convention, 1788 (Alexander, 2002)
Richard Henry Lee
“A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves . . . and include all men capable of bearing arms. . . To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms… The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle.” — Additional Letters From The Federal Farmer, 1788 (Straub, The Truth About Guns That Liberals Don’t Want You To Know)
The Constitution preserves “the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation. . . (where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” (The Federalist No. 46)
“Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American . . . . The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” — The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788 (Straub, The Truth About Guns That Liberals Don’t Want You To Know)
“As the military forces which must occasionally be raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article (of amendment) in their right to keep and bear their private arms.” — Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789 (Straub, The Truth About Guns That Liberals Don’t Want You To Know)
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. (Straub, Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787)
“If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens.” (The Federalist No. 29)
“Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. . . Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.” (Conway, 1906)
“The rights of conscience, of bearing arms, of changing the government, are declared to be inherent in the people.” — Letter to F.R. Minoe, June 12, 1789 (Straub, The Truth About Guns That Liberals Don’t Want You To Know)
“What, sir, is the use of militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty. . . Whenever Government means to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise a standing army upon its ruins.” — Debate, U.S. House of Representatives, August 17, 1789 (Waldman, 2014)
“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.” — Virginia`s U.S. Constitution ratification convention (Hatonn, 1994)
“The great object is, that every man be armed … Everyone who is able may have a gun.” (Patrick Henry Quotes)
Zachariah Johnson told the Virginia convention their liberties would be safe because “the people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.” (Malcolm, 1994)
– Col. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. (1995). “Revolt of the Masses: Armed Civilians and the Insurrectionary Theory of the Second Amendment”. 62 TENN. L. REV. 643. “The concept postulates that the Second Amendment was intended to provide the means by which the people, as a last resort, could rise in armed revolt against tyrannical authorities.” (Second Amendment to the United States Constitution)
– The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 asserted that, “the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state”. (Constitution of Pennsylvania – September 28, 1776)
– It is a natural right, which the people have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights, to keep arms for their own defense; and as Mr. Blackstone observes, it is to be made use of when the sanctions of society and law are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression. (“Boston, March 17”. N. Y. J., Supplement: 1, Col.3. qtd. in Halbrook, A Right to Bear Arms, p. 7.)
– However, the weight of serious scholarship supports the historical intent of the Second Amendment to protect individual rights and to deter governmental tyranny. From the Federalist Papers to explanations when the Bill of Rights was introduced, it is clear that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to protect individual rights. (Halbrook, Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, 1866-1876, 1998)
– Vice President Hubert Humphrey told Guns magazine in 1960 that “certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America but which historically has proven to be always possible.” (Carter, 2012)
– An armed population is the ultimate check on tyranny. (Malcolm, 1994)
– Federalist index: ttp://www.constitution.org/fed/federa00.htm
You can argue all you want about the words, as written, in the Second Amendment; however, the designers of the Constitution, in their own words, meant that all Americans have the right to keep and bear arms, including open/concealed carry. The statements in this document are just as important today as they were over 200 years ago. Thought for the day: If the Right to Bear Arms was only meant to protect muskets, then Freedom of the Press was only meant to protect the printing press.
Alexander, J. K. (2002). Samuel Adams: America’s Revolutionary Politician. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
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Carter, G. L. (2012). Guns In American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law (Second ed., Vol. 1). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
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No freeman… (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2015, from Monticello.org: http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/no-freeman-shall-be-debarred-use-arms-quotation
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Straub, S. (n.d.). Noah Webster, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787. Retrieved July 13, 2015, from The Federalist Papers: http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/founders/noah-webster/noah-webster-an-examination-into-the-leading-principles-of-the-federal-constitution-1787
Straub, S. (n.d.). The Truth About Guns That Liberals Don’t Want You To Know. Retrieved July 13, 2015, from The Federalist Papers: http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/second-amendment-2/the-truth-about-guns-that-liberals-dont-want-people-to-know
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Thomas Jefferson to William Smith. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2015, from Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/105.html
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Waldman, M. (2014). The Second Amendment: A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster.