In the photograph above, on the right hand side, you see a group of African-Americans during reconstruction. On the left-hand side is a democratic majority who wants to take away their rights which were recently recognized in the Constitution. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law. Meaning, it guarantees the rights recognized in the Constitution and other state and federal laws apply to everyone. The Freedmen’s Bureau (in the center of the picture) was Abraham Lincoln’s way of ensuring that the ideals of the 13th and 14th Amendments actually came to fruition. Among the rights guaranteed in the Constitution was the right to bear arms. Back then, the NRA stood up for the right for Black Americans to keep and bear arms (2) The Untold History of Black NRA Gun Clubs Civil Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://ammo.com/articles/guns-nra-and-american-civil-rights-movement-guide and they still do. Without that right they would be sitting ducks to an aggressive majority who wished them harm. In this example, the Second Amendment wasn’t for defending the nation, fighting the national government or joining a militia. It was for self-defense. There is almost no other right more natural than the right to defend yourself and your family. However, the Second Amendment isn’t just about self-defense. It is about defense in general.
When most people argue about the right to bear arms they discuss the types of weapons currently used and argue about the wording of the text in the Constitution. I’ll also discuss the wording. Americans need to learn that the Second Amendment exists for a reason and that reason is frequently hidden by the temporary emotional and political arguments of the day. The Second Amendment recognizes the right of the people to keep and bear arms not to fight yesterdays battles, but just like in Reconstruction, it protects us from tomorrow’s bullies.
Bear with me through this exercise, there are a million resources which have debated the language of the Second Amendment. None I have found have dissected it in this way. Have you ever tried to explain things to a four year old? Let’s see if this conversation sounds familiar: “Where are you going?” “To work.” “Why?” “To make money.” “Why?” “So I can buy food.” “Why?” …. The longer the conversation lasts, the closer you get to the creation of the Earth. For the child, it is a logical search for knowledge to discover all of the causes that led to current actions. Following that logic I am taking our story backwards from the modern argument of self defense and Reconstruction, with many of the whys explained along the way, to the spark which ignited the American Revolution. We are going to look at the Second Amendment – backwards.
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.(3) The Bill of Rights: A Transcription. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript#toc-amendment-ii
- Shall not be infringed – These might be the most important four words in the amendment. In legal terms “shall,” is an obligation. It means the government has a duty to prevent the limitation or undermining of this provision. (4) United States Government (2011, May). Shall and Must. Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/conversational/shall-and-must/ These words command the federal government not only to abide by this prohibition, but to take an active role in protecting it.
- To keep and bear arms – These are two separate rights rolled into this one amendment. To keep arms simply means to own them. To bear arms means you can carry them, on your person. So no, guns are not intended to be in your safe locked up with a biometric access panel while your ammunition is locked up in a second safe, in a different room. Laws that require this should be deemed unconstitutional. Laws that prevent open carry should also be deemed unconstitutional.
- The right of the people – The Second Amendment recognizes that the people have the right to keep and carry arms and the federal government has a duty to prevent limitations on that right. Understand that rights do not come from government or come from the Constitution. Rights are natural. Just as you would expect a bear to defend itself and its family with everything in its capacity, the right to self-defense is also natural. The right to defend your family, town, state or country is also natural. The Constitution merely recognizes that natural right.
- Being necessary to the security of a free State – Not only is it a right of the people to keep and bear arms, but it is necessary for the security and freedom of the states. Keep in mind, the Bill of Rights was written after Article 1 of the Constitution which gave the federal government the right to create an army. Clearly our founders added the Second Amendment because they didn’t put all their trust in the government they created for the future security and freedom of the states.
- Militia – The Second Amendment does not create the militia it merely recognizes their importance to keep the states free. Armed people create militias. Organization (not creation) of the local militia began during the First Continental Congress more than a year before the Second Continental Congress decided to create an army and almost two years before we declared independence. Therefore, the function of the militia in the minds of the Continental Congress was to provide resistance to their national government. The militia was necessary to the security of their states in the past and would remain a defense against the federal government the founders created in the future.
- A well regulated – What is well-regulated? The militia. Notice the distance between the word “regulated” and “people.” Nowhere in this amendment does it imply that weapons should be regulated. There were also no background check requirements; no laws about where guns could be carried and no regulations on firearms. It only suggests regulation of the militia. What does that mean? It means the militia should be trained just like the British “regulars” were trained.
To sum up, the federal government has a duty to protect the people’s right to own and carry arms. They may be needed to defend their states and they should be well trained.
The Articles of Confederation
“…every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accounted, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition, and camp equipage.”The Articles of Confederation (5) Transcript of Articles of Confederation (1777). (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=3&page=transcript
The writers of the Constitution did not need to look very far back in their own history to understand the responsibilities of the militia. The Articles of Confederation pointed out that each state needed to be able to pull its own weight by keeping up a disciplined militia and equipping it so that it would be ready. Most states don’t have any organized militia today. The Tenth Amendment says, the powers not given to the federal government are reserved for the states or the people. It is still the responsibility of the people to keep and bear arms.
Our Nation’s Origin
The text relating to militias in the Articles of Confederation and in the Constitution were inspired by the real actions of their former national government, the British. Americans can’t say “it would never happen here,” because it did happen here. The “shot heard round the world,” which sparked the official beginning of the fighting in the Revolutionary War, was fired over this very issue. On April 19, 1775 members of the local militia in Lexington grabbed their personal firearms and ammunition and faced off against the British regulars who were marching to Concord to confiscate weapons there. In order to pacify the population, the British wanted to take away the populations ability to fight against them. The British were sent back by the daring actions of the townspeople in Lexington and Concord who refused to let a central power control their ability to defend themselves. Similarly, the Battle of Bunker Hill (pictured above) was also fought by militia. George Washington arrived with the newly formed Continental Army after the battle.
The right to bear arms is embedded throughout our nation’s history. The brave people who fought in our Revolutionary War said they could take care of themselves. They did not need, expect or desire the national government to resolve all their issues. Government did not give them a right to bear arms, but their government was all too willing to take it away. Even today, when in danger, a government employee is usually too far away to help.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
As with all other rights, the right to bear arms comes with responsibilities. The proper translation of the phrase “gun control” is being able to hit only your target. It is also your responsibility to exercise this right. Recently a shooting in Texas, an open carry state, made this point abundantly clear. While citizens had the right to carry, they did not. Law enforcement took hours to resolve the situation and many lives were lost. In a similar situation in Missouri, a potential gunman was thwarted by one man who carried his gun with him while shopping. A right not exercised is a right easily taken.
It is up to us to not only know our rights, but also to be ready to give an account for why those rights have meaning. If we have weak arguments we can be easily swayed by a clever lie or an emotional appeal. Our founders put those words on paper, not so future generations could be avid sportsmen, but so future generations of this country could survive.
|↑1||Waud, A. (1868). Freedmen’s Bureau [Painting found in Harper’s Weekly]. In (p. 473). New York, NY: Harper’s Weekly July 25, 1868. Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://archive.org/details/harpersweeklyv12bonn/page/n469. (Original work created in 1868)|
|↑2||The Untold History of Black NRA Gun Clubs Civil Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://ammo.com/articles/guns-nra-and-american-civil-rights-movement-guide|
|↑3||The Bill of Rights: A Transcription. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript#toc-amendment-ii|
|↑4||United States Government (2011, May). Shall and Must. Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/conversational/shall-and-must/|
|↑5||Transcript of Articles of Confederation (1777). (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=3&page=transcript|
|↑6||Trumbull, J., & Hoffy, A. (1840). The Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17th 1775 [Painting found in Popular graphic art print filing series, The Library of Congress]. Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.loc.gov/item/2014645332/|