It is ironic that in a nation founded on the principles of individual liberty, we have been subjected for years to the wailings of those on the side of tyranny proclaiming that what the second amendment ensures is not a protection of the God given right of the individual to own and to carry arms , but instead it is a protection of the right of the government to arm itself through the implementation of state militias. Why our government or any government would need their right to arm themselves protected is beyond perplexing . We have to ask ourselves why the founders thought this was necessary considering that never once in recorded history is there an example of a government denying itself the right to arm. In order to truly understand the second amendment, I believe that it is important to understand the history and the mindset of the men who framed it.
The civil war period of the mid seventeenth century England was a time marked by competing factions gaining the upper hand both in warfare and in political power and using that power to disarm the other side. At the end of this period, William and Mary were seated as king and queen. It was also during this period that a bill of rights was adopted that acknowledged an individual right to keep arms. English commentator, William Blackstone argued that the individual’s right to keep and bear arms was in fact an absolute right and did not bear on an individual’s position in society. He also argued that standing armies were the greatest threat to the liberties of the people.
Among those who shaped and wrote our Constitution, it was a commonly held belief that the greatest danger to liberty was a standing army which in the past was used by the government to oppress the people. Because of this distrust of government, the founders only allowed the Congress to raise an army for the period of two years. Even then it was expected the majority of the army would be made up of the various militias of the States. Since the officers of these militias would be appointed by the States, it was expected that their loyalties would also lie with the States. It was hoped that this ultimate allegiance to the states and not the federal government would provide the people with a small buffer of protection from a over-reaching federal government that might use that standing army to subjugate the people During the ratification process of the Constitution, one of my fellow Virginians, Patrick Henry, argued against ratification. His opposition was based on the fact that the Constitution allowed standing armies and that there was no specific language that prohibited the government from confiscating arms. According to Henry, “the great object is that every man be armed …. Everyone who is able may have a gun.” Because of arguments such as these by Patrick Henry in Virginia and by Samuel Adams in Massachusetts, the Constitution was finally ratified but only with the promise that the first order of business of the new government would be the introduction of a Bill of Rights by the first Congress.
The first draft of the second amendment was as follows:
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.
As you can see a few lines were removed in the editing process. The point here is that the militia was considered the whole body of the people, not just a select few National Guardsmen. In the language of the Constitution there are only three entities recognized; the United States i.e. the Federal Government, the States, and the People. When the second amendment says the right of the people, it should be clear who the founders were talking about. What I find most interesting in the language of the second amendment and the overall intent of the founders is who exactly it is that is not allowed to infringe upon this right?
According to the tenth amendment of the Constitution, if the Constitution doesn’t say that the United States can do it, then they may not. But the States are allowed to do anything they want as long as it is not prohibited to them. The second amendment in my opinion is in fact a prohibition not only to the United States but also to the States as well. Therefore according to the second amendment not only is the United States prohibited from restricting the ownership and use of arms, that same prohibition extends to the States also.
In conclusion, here is what we know as fact with respect to the second amendment: The founders feared standing armies, and determined that the best protection against them was a well armed populace. Since the United States was going to be allowed to have standing armies, it was only logical that the whole of the people be allowed to remain armed. The founders also believed that the right to keep and bear arms was in fact an individual right and could not be taken away by the government, federal or state. Some of those reading this today may reject my conclusions out of hand because of my lack of legal training. But I would argue that our founders wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights so that all men; farmers and merchants, soldiers and sailors and even airline pilots could understand it. That is the beauty of our founding documents. For those of you who question this conclusion, I would like to leave you with this thought to ponder. In 2008 nine Supreme Court justices read the following, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” in Heller vs. the District of Columbia. Four of these legally trained jurists concluded that people did not mean people. Sometimes a high priced law degree is worthless. I think Patrick Henry and James Madison would agree with me. I rest my case.