In light of the recent failure of Congress to pass a very watered down gun control law reportedly favored by almost 90% of the population I will take another stab at a rational and historic interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to the Bill of Rights:
“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.“
The 2nd Amendment might appear ambiguous to some in spite of its brevity. It seems strange to me that our Founding Fathers would guarantee the right of everyone to bear arms. No nation before or since has ever made the right to bear arms a constitutional right for good reason. Uncontrolled firearm ownership could potentially threaten the State’s stability through revolution as did eventually occur 80 years later during the Civil War, our bloodiest war. They could also be a danger to the general public as was so painfully evident in the occasional mass shooting and other gun related crimes occurring many times daily throughout this nation.
Thus all nations with apparently the single exception of the United States have control over the ownership and use of firearms. There are some nations that restrict firearm ownership to the military, law enforcement, and a few other special cases and others nations with far fewer restrictions. So what wisdom did our Founding Fathers have to include such an open-ended provision in the Bill of Rights? Conventional wisdom at that time and even today, in light of all the killings that have occurred and continue to occur due to firearms in our country, would suggest making firearms a controlled weapon, as all other nations do, due to its effective arbitrary lethality. Controlling is not the same as banning. Control means that the government can make laws governing its use, distribution and ownership. Making it a constitutional right makes it very difficult to control and restrict firearms as we have recently witnessed when congress voted against a very watered down gun control law for more extensive background checks as a result of recent mass gun killings.
So why would our Founding Fathers intend the unrestricted ownership of firearms as a constitutional right? The wisdom of this for such a new nation does not seem at all clear. To the contrary, at that time in history other nations allowed firearm ownership by citizens, especially the wealthy, for hunting and sporting and in some cases even for dueling. But it was never a constitutional right. The option to further restrict the use of firearms was always available to these governments as illustrated by the eventual ban on dueling.
When literally reading the 2nd Amendment it seems to imply that the purpose of the right of the people to bear arms “being necessary to the security of a free State” to protect the nation with “A well regulated Militia”. But the Supreme Court has elected to give it another meaning. So what else did our Founding Fathers intend the first half of the 2nd Amendment to mean if not what was literally written? I think that it is historically clear what “A well regulated Militia” meant to our Founding Father in the 18th Century. During the Revolutionary War it was necessary to form militias such as the Minute Men from the citizenry to fight the British. It would seem reasonable that the Founding Fathers would still like to have a well-regulated citizen Militia as a standby army since there was no standing army after the revolution and some did not want a powerful standing army such as the British had and used with great effect against them. So the necessity for a citizen Militia to defend the recently freed States against the British should they decide to take the colonies back would have been a very high priority for the newly formed government to grant and to guarantee the militia members “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” for the purpose of protecting the State. Not that there was any mention of the right to acquire arms, only “to keep and bear Arms”. At that time every able-bodied male was considered a member of this militia thus the reference to “the right of the people“. Now things are starting to make more sense. A citizen militia existed to protect the newly formed States so the central government guaranteed the people the right to keep their arms to maintain a respectably large size militia. One other thing occurred just before and during the Revolution. The central government would regulate the militia (well regulated Militia) so that it could be called into active service should the need arise. This makes both logical sense and historical sense. As mentioned earlier there were many who were against a standing army which could control and limit the rights of the people as existed under British rule.
So the 2nd Amendment seems more about a large standby citizen’s militia, due to the lack of a standing army to protect the states, than about the simple right of all people to bear arms for any purpose. Since we now have a professional standing army a militia is obsolete making the 2nd Amendment equally obsolete. This would imply that the public does not have the Right to bear arms for simply any reason.
One thought for gun advocates: do they believe that the right to bear arms is an inalienable right of man and that all men everywhere in the world should have the same rights to bear arms, even potential terrorists, criminals, and murderers?
Also see: The Right to Bear Arms – Or Not