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The 2nd Amendment

By: Joshua Sullivan, Feb. 15, 2013
"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."

What does that even mean? 

There has been some debate in recent years about the intent of this passage of the U.S. Constitution.
However, there is a very simple and logical explanation of the second amendment.  This is my interpretation.

There are two primary sections.
The first primary section reads, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state."
This section establishes the intent - or reasoning - for the second primary section that reads, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
The second section determines what is being commanded - that the pre-existing right to gun ownership shall not be infringed upon by the government or any other body.

To understand the intent in the first primary section, it is important to break it down into two sub-sections.  The first sub-section is "A well regulated militia"  and the second sub-section is "being necessary to the security of a free state."
  • Regulated: trained, practiced, disciplined, or organized
  • Militia: all able-bodied (at the time, male) armed citizens
  • Security: retention, safety, preservation
  • Free State: a society not subject to tyranny, invasion, or subjugation (i.e. freedom). 

The choice of wording was very deliberate by the writers.  The modern population does not often speak on a formal level any longer, so it can help to place the definitions into the passage.  Like so:

"A well [trained] [group of armed citizens], being necessary to the [preservation] of [a society not subject to tyranny], the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

With the intention for the amendment resolved, whose rights are to be protected? 

The word "people" in the U.S. Constitution always, always refers to citizens who are not members of a governmental body.  This is clearly illustrated by the section of the first amendment that states, "...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."  This section draws a clear contrast between members of the government and the people.  In this case "people" cannot refer to the government because the statement, "...the right of the government peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." would make no sense.  Why would the government petition itself?  In the same manner, it cannot mean only an approved organization, as any person may petition (protest) the government - including non-citizens.

This distinction can be found in every occurrence of the word "people" in the Constitution.  People means "all people."  There are no requirements to be a member of the "people."  Because a single person is a member of the "people" any right of "the people" is an individual right.

Since we know whose rights are to be protected, to what definition of arms should the right apply?

The conclusion can be found by looking at the intent of the amendment.  The purpose of the right to bear arms is for the "[preservation] of [a society not subject to tyranny]".  This indicates that the type of armaments whose possession is not to be infringed upon include any that are useful in the preservation of freedom.  This means that any armament that can be used in a military capacity is protected by the second amendment.  The purpose of the armament is defense - not hunting or sporting.  Those activities are not related to our right to self defense.  The fact that a tool can be used for both is inconsequential to the determination of suitability of purpose. 

During the American Revolution, private citizens owned (and used) canons in defense of their freedom.  Such weapons required at least two men to effectively operate.  Given the advances in technology used in warfare, this leads to the logical conclusion that our modern equivalent would be a mortar.  A mortar can be operated by a small crew and would be similarly effective (in modern military use) in a support or siege role. 

Why would a normal citizen need a Mortar?  To balance power.  The point to the second amendment is not just to have a ton of weaponry.  It is to ensure that the government and the people are on equal footing.  It is to prevent an imbalance of power.  Most people are good, law abiding citizens. They won't kill others without just cause.  These people are not a threat to the innocent - they are a threat to the evildoers.  For that reason, their possession of any weapon (even a tank, mortar, or machine gun) is no cause for alarm. 

On the other hand, an evil man should not be allowed to have any weapon as he will use it to bring harm to those who do not deserve it.  However, the catch is that an evil man will not obey the law.  Those with evil in their hearts will murder, rape, and steal.  Why would they obey another law that tells them what tools they may use in the course of murdering, raping, or stealing?  They will use whatever tool they can acquire by any means.  

This is why the Founding Fathers didn't say that the "right to keep and bear arms" was a right of "law abiding people" or "non-criminals".  They knew that the weapon was not the issue - evil is the issue.  A gun, by itself, is just a collection of wood, metal, and plastic.  A gun in the hands of a good man is a tool directed for good.  A gun in the hands of a evil man is a tool directed for evil.