The 2nd Amendment

The 2nd Amendment
The 2nd Amendment

The Right to Bear Arms

In the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, there is much debate about guns rights filling the airwaves these days. Anti-Gun advocates are stressing that there needs to be limits on what type of guns should be allowed in the United States. Guns Rights advocates are claiming that infringement on the rights of law abiding citizens is not the answer to keep us safe. But what this question really stems down to is the roll of the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment. The Country must ask some tough questions. What does the 2nd Amendment mean? What role does the 2nd Amendment have in American society today?

Many people are shocked to learn what the 2nd Amendment actually says
Many people are shocked to learn what the 2nd Amendment actually says

Start with the Constitution

The 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

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.


A fairly simple sentence that causes so much debate. Yet, the history of the right to bear arms is often times forgotten. The right to bear arms is not an American invention. The 2nd Amendment stems from the English Bill of Rights. The English Bill of Rights states "That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law." As allowed by law, interesting sentence. Like the American Constitution and Bill of Rights, the English Bill of Rights was not granting rights but recognizing a natural right that cannot be taken away by the Government. But the predecessor of the 2nd Amendment recognized both guns rights and gun regulation. Something today's conservatives often times forget.

Madison's early drafts show a much different picture than most people think
Madison's early drafts show a much different picture than most people think

The Early Drafts

Many on both sides of the arguments try to claim what the founder's intent was when drafting the 2nd Amendment. One way this can be done is by looking at the early drafts of the document. On July 21, 1776, James Madison and the committee selected to draft the Bill of Rights made the following proposal for the 2nd Amendment:

A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms. (See http://constitution.org/mil/militia_debate_1789.htm)

What is interesting when looking at the early drafts and the motions by the various states, the argument was not about an individual right to arms. Instead, the argument was whether the United States should have a standing army or whether militias would suffice. This is why the final and adopted draft of the amendment begins by discussing the importance of of a "well regulated" militia. The 2nd Amendment was a compromise between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists to ensure that the new power of the Central Government did not overstep its bounds by recognizing a collective right to militias and the right for the people to bear arms to form them. .


Second Amendment
Second Amendment
The Supreme Court has done little to settle the dispute
The Supreme Court has done little to settle the dispute

The Supreme Court

The adoption of the 2nd Amendment was meant to preserve State's rights over the power of the federal government by ensuring that existence of militias. In short, the purpose of the 2nd Amendment was for the community as a whole, and not any particular individual. Since its adoption, the 2nd Amendment has been debated before the Supreme Court and for most of this time the 2nd Amendment was viewed from the community standpoint and not the individuals.

In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court held that the 2nd Amendment does protect an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in any militia and to use the gun for traditionally lawful purposes. The Court explained that the opening clause simply offered a purpose and should not be interpreted to limit or expand the right.

But what gun rights advocates appear to forget is that even the majority in the Heller case does not argue that the right is absolute. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, stated:

"Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

The Heller case is the landmark case on the 2nd Amendment and oddly, does very little to settle the dispute. The Court recognized that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right but at the same time that it can be regulated.


The Founders Looked at Gun Control from a Community Perspective.  Perhaps that is the answer now.
The Founders Looked at Gun Control from a Community Perspective. Perhaps that is the answer now.

What is the Answer?

Where is the compromise on gun rights? Did the founders really intend of everyone having a right to own an automatic assault weapon that can wipe out classrooms in a matter of seconds? Probably not. But the founders were clear that they believed that individuals having weapons was important to protect the community as a whole.

But it is important to note that at the time James Madison proposed "the right to bear arms" to ensure the survival of militias there were no police forces. There were no automatic weapons. There were not 30 round clips. Perhaps looking at what the purpose of the 2nd Amendment is better than the actual text. The founders wanted to protect the survival of the State. They were concerned with safety. And it is hard to claim that they would want a country were everyone was armed without any community purpose in mind was their intent.

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Comments 18 comments

HSchneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Great analysis and historical background information. Unfortunately our current Supreme Court is not going to see it that way. Hopefully the time will come when the Court evolves. Hopefully before many more young innocents die. Common sense regulation is much needed and no one is taking away anyone's guns. Excellent job, Bgpappa.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 3 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

The current makeup of the Court gave us the Heller opinion, which was intellectually dishonest at best. But it is telling that the most conservative on the Court admitted that regulation is Constitutional. Yet, most conservatives claim it is not.

Thanks for reading.


Charles James profile image

Charles James 3 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

Very helpful. Thank you for this hub.


oz-vitez profile image

oz-vitez 3 years ago

Your hub is misinformed on a great many parts. You do not recognize the historical use of "bear arms," which was in no way related to the militia use of weapons. Additionally, Federalist 29 blows apart your assumption of having few armed citizens and your so-called "community purpose" ideal. Defending one's natural, individual rights does not require a "community purpose."

Besides, the Supreme Court is not the final arbiter of the Constitution. States - and their citizens - have the final say. Overall, you have a decent start, but you should really conduct some more research on this topic.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 3 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Thanks Charles,

Oz-Vitez, I don't understand your comment on Federalist Paper 29. The paper, written to the citizens of New York is all about the debate between militia and a standing army. George Washington said, "A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies."

How is that not a common purpose? As for the Supreme Court, they are the final arbiter of the Constitution as it is written. The people can amend it after the Supreme Court makes a decision. But that is different than stating what the Constitution means.

There are a lot of founders who made cogent and logical arguments more akin to the conservative argument today. But those arguments did not win the day. Thanks for stopping by.


oz-vitez profile image

oz-vitez 3 years ago

Washington's quote is about the "common defence" of a nation, i.e. being prepared for war in order to preserve peace. This is not common purpose, which is yet a change from your original use of community purpose. You change your statements and give them different meaning.

And you prove my point: the people have the final say on the Constitution, not the Supreme Court. So, your argument is fairly thin when attempting to explain this complex issue.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 3 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

It is a very complex issue and hard to examine is a short little argument. Common purpose/community purpose - distinction without a difference. And the people do not have the final say on the Constitution unless they amend it. The Supreme Court has the final say, then it can be amended if the people so decide. That is different.


oz-vitez profile image

oz-vitez 3 years ago

Well, I shall leave you to wallow in your ignorance. I suggest you find new sources to broaden your mind about American politics and history. Good day.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 3 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Typical conservative argument - I am using the Constitution, Constitution papers and Supreme Court rulings for my argument and yet, you want new sources because those don't fit into your desires.


oz-vitez profile image

oz-vitez 3 years ago

Never said I was conservative. And, it does not matter what you use to frame your argument if your analysis is wrong. Besides, you introduce international law into an American legal issue, which is also incorrect. I just suggest you broaden your understanding to avoid incorrect conclusions. Nothing wrong with learning.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 3 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

International law???? The Founders brought in the British Bill of Rights, not me. If you have a problem with that, take that up with them.


oz-vitez profile image

oz-vitez 3 years ago

Blah, blah, blah. You obviously lack depth in your argument and simply want gun control through regulation, which is not Constitutional. Oh well; keep trying.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 3 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Justice Scalia disagrees with you.


Charles James profile image

Charles James 3 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

How many arms or weapons can a person bear? Would a law prohibiting owning more weapons than you can physically carry be unconstitutional? Would a limit of one long barrel and two short weapons -all you can sensibly use at once - be wrong?

"A well regulated militia" does this mean that gun owners should be liable for conscription into their state's National Guard?

A feast to think about!


Charles James profile image

Charles James 3 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

How many arms or weapons can a person bear? Would a law prohibiting owning more weapons than you can physically carry be unconstitutional? Would a limit of one long barrel and two short weapons -all you can sensibly use at once - be wrong?

"A well regulated militia" does this mean that gun owners should be liable for conscription into their state's National Guard?

A feast to think about!


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 3 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

The point is there is more to the 2nd amendment than you can have a gun. It was meant to keep order. Today, I would argue it has the opposite effect. Thanks for stopping by.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas

Good points bgpappa! Voted up and interesting! :)

Here is some information I found quite some time ago when researching this topic. You may also find it of interest:

In Colonial America, free, adult white males were required to own guns and attend public meetings armed in case of Indian attacks. Furthermore, they were required to keep them in good condition along with a specified amount of ammunition; however, they were also required to attend "muster"on a regular basis to be prepared to defend their settlements and to demonstrate that their weapons were in safe working condition and that they knew how to use them. Additionally, in many of the colonies, the militia was required to store all guns in a secure, central location. That's your well-regulated militia. Anti-gun control supporters would not stand for this for a minute, yet they claim to be acting according to the desires of the Founding Fathers.

To learn more about gun regulation in Colonial America, see:

Colonial Firearm Regulation

http://www.saf.org/journal/16/colonialfirearmregul...


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 3 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Very interesting Justme. I have read similar accounts as well. Goes to the community versus private need argument.

Thanks for sharing and taking the time to visit.

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