- Politics and Social Issues
Gun Control, the Second Amendment and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
“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.” Amendment II United States Constitution
The Right to Keep and Bear Arms (furthermore known as RKBA) has a long and valued history in the United States. Firearms were an essential part of life for the early settlers and colonists. They needed them for hunting, protection, and militia service especially along the frontier. They were prized by our Founding Fathers for one specific purpose – in the hands of the citizenry, weapons act as a last resort against the machinations of tyranny. If every man be armed, domestic tyranny is unlikely and foreign invasion is likely to come to naught.
The Militia Clause
The concept that every man be armed was important enough to be enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the Second Amendment. The current leftist interpretation that the right assured (not granted – natural rights are not and cannot be granted by government) by the Second Amendment relates only to state militias is ludicrous. First of all, the Second Amendment does not state that it applies to militias in any sense. The guaranteed right is a right “of the people” (see below). The militia clause is a dependent clause, explaining the reasoning behind the right; however, it does not control the right. Let’s say that the amendment read “A well-informed people being necessary to the welfare of a free state, the right of the people to own and read books shall not be infringed". By modern leftist Constitutional interpretation, this would be interpreted to mean that only non-fiction books that narrowly inform the reader of the issues would be constitutional, when no such guidelines are given in the amendment. Plainly, this is a ridiculous and incorrect interpretation. The people have a right to own and read such books as they choose even if they do not - strictly speaking - lead to the reader being “well-informed”. The dependent clause does not rule over the independent clause and the same applies to the Second Amendment.
As a side note, even if the amendment did apply primarily to the militia, state guards and the National Guard are not the only militia in existence in the United States. The unorganized militia has also been in existence since 1792. The Militia Act of 1792 states that all able-bodied men between the ages of 17 and 45 are in the unorganized militia, which can be called together if necessary. We are the militia.
An Individual Right
Secondly, the phrase “the right of the people” always refers to an individual right when used elsewhere in the Constitution. The First Amendment refers to “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” and the Fourth Amendment says that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”. Obviously, these are specifically referring to an individual right. The framers of our Constitution would have been extremely inconsistent and in error to use the phrase “the right of the people” if they actually meant “the right of the states” or “the right of the federal government”. They were not in error, however, but very carefully wrote the clause as intended. Government, whether federal, state, or local, does not and can not have “rights”, but they instead have those “powers” granted them by the applicable constitution and the people. Only an individual person can have a right to do any particular thing. A republican form of government by definition is an agreement by the people to assent to the governing document and body. The assent granted means that the formed government has no “right” as a body, but only those powers that are agreed to by the people. Any time a “right” is discussed, it is always an individual right of the people. Therefore, RKBA must belong to the people individually, not the people corporately in the person of federal, state, or local government. Those government bodies may indeed have power over a militia, but that cannot be in total the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment
What does "keep and bear arms" mean?
There have been debates for years over exactly what the term “keep and bear arms” might cover. Some lower the term to mean as little as hunting or target rifles; others argue that the Second Amendment cannot be taken seriously because NBC weapons might be protected. Both argument fall far short of the mark. Hunting, target shooting, or other sporting uses for arms have nothing to do with the Constitution. While these purposes are covered under the Second Amendment, it does not concern them directly. It would hardly take a constitutional amendment to guarantee that shooters have the right to make bullet holes in paper targets or pop cans. This would be equivalent to arguing that the freedom of the press guaranteed in the First Amendment applied only to writing novels, when the obvious purpose was to protect political speech, especially dissenting speech.
The oft-heard argument that we must ignore the plain meaning of the Second Amendment because hydrogen bombs or biological or chemical weapons might be protected is as foolish. Any law can be taken to a ridiculous extent, and making law to control every possible exception makes for very poor legal process. A government that extends its control to take over any area of possible problem has far exceeded its proper and constitutional role. The rights protected by RKBA can be understood by looking at the role that the militia played in the colonies. The basic idea was that of a foot soldier. From today’s perspective, the example would be the modern infantryman. He might carry a rifle, potentially a pistol, bayonet, and small minor ordinances. Potentially, he may carry a SAW or similar. However, he does not carry bombs, rockets, biological or chemical weapons, at least in general. In general, this appears to be the idea behind the right to keep and bear arms – anything that a normal infantryman would carry is permissible for the people to keep and bear. However, it could extend slightly beyond this, because individuals during the Revolution and afterward could own battle-equipped ships, which were the height of technology at the time, equivalent to a fighter jet today.
The First Amendment is the most important amendment because the rights guaranteed by it are the rights that make the United States the greatest nation on earth. However, the Second Amendment is just as valuable, because it guarantees that we keep the First Amendment.
Somewhat dated, but a decent overview.