Here is our two-part discussion on the Second Amendment – as it relates to our rights as Americans and it’s implications for self defense.
The Second Amendment is one of the more controversial Amendments in our Bill of Rights. Opposition to the right to bear arms argue that gun violence is inherently a product of allowing citizens to carry guns. Supporters argue that it is necessary to have the right to arm oneself for both self-defense and to safe guard liberty.
But what was the idea behind the Second Amendment? What did the Framers of the Consitution have in mind? Here we give you the history behind the Second Amendment and how it became to be.
Our concept of the right to bear arms isn’t only an American idea. In fact, the original idea came from England; our Second Ammendment was heavily influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The idea behind this was that there was a natural right to self defense, to resist oppression and to defend the country from invaders. These concepts or rights had already been around for around a hundred years by the time the Constitution was drafted.
When the United States declared independence, the first system of nationalized government were the Articles of Confederacy that united the 13 States. It primarily established a legitimate recognized nation, and gave authority to wage the Revolutionary War.
However, the Articles of Confederacy presented several problems due to it’s limited scope. In short, there wasn’t enough of a Federal or National government and the states operated a bit too independent from each other; there was little to govern the interactions between the states.
Among the solutions was creating a National Militia or Military. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution addressed this, allowing the creation of such a military to repel invasion and to stop insurrection, giving power to the Federal Government. There was disagreement over giving this kind of power to the Federal government, characterized by the two groups of thoughts: Anti-Federalists and Federalists.
Anti-Federalists were distrustful of a centralized government that would hold the majority of power. Considering that a Revolutionary War was just fought against a tyrannical government, this is an understandable sentiment.
Federalists on the other hand viewed a strong central government as important to properly unify and govern the states. They also had the same concerns about potential corruption and tyranny, but figured it would be checked by the armed populace.
The compromise offered by the Anti-Federalists was to create a Bill of Rights that would limit the powers of the Federal government, which would include a “right to bear arms”.
The Second Amendment went through several revisions before the final version we know today. The first version was drafted by James Madison and read as follows:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
A committee was formed to review the bill, and returned this reworded version:
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.
The House debated the bill, and again revised it due to concerns that the “religously scrupulous” clause could be used to destroy the militia. It returned the following:
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 one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
The House sent it to the Senate, and the Senate scribe added a comma before “shall not be infringed” and changed the semicolon to a comma:
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 one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
The senate decided to remove the definition of Militia and to remove the conscientious objector clause:
A well regulated militia, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Finally the Senate returned their final version to the House for review that read as follows:
A well regulated militia being the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The House reviewed it, and the final version that is in our bill of rights is as follows:
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 Militia were essentially the populace. They owned their own firearms. We can see this if we look at the version of the Second Amendment that included the definition of Militia as “composed of the body of the people”.
The definition was dropped from the final version, but one could argue that it was understood as the definition of the Militia and therefor did not need to be specifically stated. We can see this when George Madison said “Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.”
We can infer, as it has been, that the term Militia can be interchangeably used with the populace or citizenry of the United States. This right to bear arms extends to every citizen in our country, as has been supported over our history by our Supreme Court.
The purpose of the Second Amendment, as with the rest of the Bill of Rights, was to limit the powers of a Federal government. Indeed the rights of self-defense had already been present in the minds of the Framers from English law. Yet they were weary of not explicitly protecting this right, since Britain had attempted to disarm the colonies during the Revolutionary War. Noah Webster said the following:
Before a standing army can rule the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.
Similarly George Madison had this to say: “to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them . . . by totally disusing and neglecting the militia.”
The second amendment, one could argue, was the ultimate or final check against tyranny within the Government. If the Government decided to use it’s army against a people, they would face the entire populace as armed citizens.
As Patrick Henry of Virginia stated: “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”
In our next article, we will look at the other half of the equation: Gun Control and it’s implications to society and the Second Amendment.
Let us know your thoughts on the Second Amendment. Do you think it’s still necessary? Leave a comment below!