The 2nd Amendment: A History Distorted
“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.”
Such reads the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
We’ve seen an explosion of interest in the Second Amendment over the past couple years. This does in part stem from increased gun control debates, which are a natural consequence of the tragic mass-shootings that have taken place recently.
The question to be answered, however, is whether the Amendment creates an individual right for citizens to bear arms, or a collective right for the states to defend themselves against a tyrannical federal government. While many legitimate arguments can be made for both interpretations of the Amendment, the contemporary political debate refers only to the ‘individual right’ aspect of the Amendment and whether or not it is Constitutional to restrict the use of certain types of arms, such as assault rifles.
When taking the unsatisfying approach of speaking only about the Second Amendment as an enabler of individual rights, we consider half of what it offers in wording. It states, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”. This, however, omits the actual purpose of the Amendment, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”. In other words, to prevent the Federal Government, established in 1789, from disarming and replacing the state militias with a federal army.
Today, the states don’t rely on militias to guarantee their freedom from the federal government – and they haven’t for a very long time.
Regardless of what a look back in history might teach us about the Second Amendment, millions still claim it to be an unrestricted, individual right and interpret it to suit their self-interest more than two centuries later.
For just a moment, we’ll interpret it as protecting the right of the people to keep and bear arms. What we don’t know through the lack of detail in the wording of this Amendment is, what kind of arms can one keep and bear. Who is to decide what the term arms means exactly? It is our Congress or Supreme Court who answer this question. In 2008, Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court on whether a District of Columbia prohibition on the possession of usable handguns in the home violated the Second Amendment. In his pro-gun interpretation, while at one point mentioning the original purpose of the Amendment, Justice Scalia also states that “M-16 rifles and the like” have no protection under the Second Amendment and therefore may be banned. Scalia, hereby, partially clarifies the term arms by excluding at least one type of rifle.
The argument, that prohibitions and restrictions on firearms possession are unconstitutional, therefore holds no basis in the law.
While the idea that everyone has a Constitutional right to bear arms according to the Second Amendment has been instilled in most Americans, one thing can still be said: Constitutional rights are not absolute rights. One’s Constitutional rights end where someone else’s Constitutional rights begin. When living in a civilized society, sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. Democracies around the world preserve their freedom while regulating guns. The argument, that Americans need their guns to protect themselves against tyranny, cannot be legitimized, by example, by any Democracy in this world. Australia and Scotland have both effectively reduced gun massacres since introducing firearm laws in 1996. America has yet to follow their lead.
this article edited by KL Johnson