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.


Something commonly misunderstood about the Constitution of the United States, and particularly the section known as the Bill of Rights, is that the document does not actually grant any rights, save the rights of the accused. Other than the right to a jury trial (Article III, Section 2) and other rights of the accused (Amendment V and VI), all mentions of rights merely disallows the federal government from placing restriction on what are thought of as inalienable human rights, or natural law: freedom of expression, freedom of privacy, freedom of defense, freedom of movement.

The writers for the Constitution were very much concerned with individuals rights. They believed no government had the right to violate natural law. Itemizing such things would only be redundant. Additionally, in listing the principles of liberty they would undoubtedly over look some things. They believed their oversights would not be considered human rights if omitted from some list. So no guarantees were placed into the original draft of the United States Constitution. Though, many States' constitutions did affirm these fundamental rights of individuals.

But federal law supersedes the power of the States. George Mason, the Father of the Bill of Rights, criticized the original Constitution because, "There is no Declaration of Rights, and the Laws of the general government being paramount to the laws and constitution of the several States, the Declaration of Rights in the separate states are no security." Realizing a potential for abuse with the absence of a federal affirmation, George Mason and others known as the Anti-Federalists championed for assurances that would safe guard against a tyrannical federal government. Because of their arguments on December 15, 1791 guarantees that restrict the federal government from taking action in particular areas of freedom were amended to the Constitution as the Bill of Rights. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, they are "what the people are entitled to against every government on earth."

The right of the people to keep and bear Arms

Like other amendments in the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment does not confer the right to keep and bear arms to anyone, but like the other amendments it does imply the right exists. The late Roy H. Copperud, a professor of journalism and expert on English usage wrote, "The right is not granted by the amendment; its existence is assumed. The thrust of the sentence is that the right shall be preserved inviolate for the sake of ensuring a militia." Copperud's literal translation of the entire sentence reviled this right is implied to be inherent for every citizen, the people, unconditionally.

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State

However, "it is invoked here specifically for the sake of the militia," Copperud added, but, "No condition is stated or implied as to the relation of the right to keep and bear arms and to the necessity of a well-regulated militia as a requisite to the security of a free state." The writers of the amendment were conveying one reason Congress should not be able to restrict private gun ownership; a preference for militia in opposition to a standing military. But no where does it imply that the existence of a standing military would make an armed citizenry obsolete. The second amendment does not state how the government should set up the armed forces. The Powers of Congress (Article 1, Section 8) allow for this.

Regardless of any Constitutional wording or historical literature to support, some continue to claim the purpose of the Second Amendment is solely intended for each State's militia. Several States had already affirmed such rights when the Bill or Rights was added. Ratified 15 years earlier, the Pennsylvania's Declaration of Rights acknowledged, "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up."

If the wording of the Second Amendment limited gun ownership to individuals acting in "a well regulated Militia" those who ratified the second amendment would be guilty of what the Bill of Rights was intended to prevent, the restriction of people's natural rights by the federal government.

The right of the people

One must concede that the phrase "The right of the people to keep and bear Arms" should be included along with the rest of George Mason's rights. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," and "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" also use this precise wording to imply an unconditional natural right. It is obtuse to consider the second amendment outside this context and insist it does not apply to all of "the people".

In his analysis of the clause Professor Copperud was asked to compare the second amendment with the following sentience; "A well-schooled electorate, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be infringed." Could this sentence, "restrict 'the right of the people to keep and read Books' only to 'a well-educated electorate' — for example, registered voters with a high-school diploma?" Copperud concluded that the grammatical structure of the sentence was identical to the second amendment and that there was nothing in the sentences "that either indicates or implies the possibility of a restricted interpretation."

A well regulated Militia

As stated previously the right to keep and bear arms was "invoked here specifically for the sake of the militia" to show a preference for peace-time militia in opposition to a standing military. This is why militant wording is used. The terms "bear arms" and "militia" certainly have military context. It was believed that the militia would be our first line of defense and those citizens and militia units should have armaments analogous to any army (arguably short of weapons of mass destruction).

Regrettably things are not as they were intended. We do have a standing military, and do not have a well-regulated militia. One could argue that American conquering began after the Civil War with the Grand Army of the Republic and again after World War II with what President Eisenhower call the Military-Industrial Complex. Regardless, it was never intended that the United States be the world's policeman. In his first inaugural address Thomas Jefferson said the United States should have, "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." Conquering or policing, our standing military is a magnificent expense to the American tax payer and only brings the contempt of the world.

Generally all persons able to fight for the defense of their nation against an enemy are considered part of a nation's militia. United States law defines the militia of the United States as "all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and...under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are commissioned officers of the National Guard." A well-regulated militia would resemble the National Guard; however they would not be part of the standing military, they would never fight in foreign wars, or fire on unarmed civilian protesters. And everyone would be required to serve.

Clearly there are those who see the National Guard as the well-regulated militia of the United States. Upon its conception in 1903 and for a bit thereafter the Guard was by most definitions a militia. But the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1982 found "That the National Guard is not the 'Militia' referred to in the Second Amendment.... Congress had organized the National Guard under its power to 'raise and support armies' and not its power to 'Provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia.'" Additionally, with changes made in 1918, "The difference between the National Guard and Regular Army was swept away, and became a personnel pay folder classification only, thus nationalizing the entire National Guard into the Regular Standing Armies of the United States."

Unfortunately one must look outside our borders for a good example of a well-regulated militia. Switzerland has the largest (per capita) and most effective militia in the world, which has kept the Swiss free, safe, and neutral in every modern conflict. Every able-bodied male is conscripted to serve in the armed forces (though there are exclusions based on moral objection). Women may serve voluntarily. Each person serves 260 days of active duty, where they learn rifle marksmanship and combat training as well as more specific occupational skills. After which, they return to their regular lives, save a few weeks of annual training to keep their skills up. Each member of the Swiss Army Militia keeps their weapons and gear at home, and not in an armory, so they may respond faster in a crisis.

The security of a free State

One in three homes in Switzerland has a firearm. And incidences of gun-related violence are very low. Switzerland has also managed to say out of every modern conflict despite it's location in the middle of Europe. Patrick Henry knew how beneficial this is. "The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun." Criminals do not want to risk the odds of invading a militiaman's home. Conquerors do not want to risk the odds of invading an armed populous. And the Government cannot risk tyranny.

An armed community is a safe community; not because guns make people safe, but because the threat of resistance operates as a great deterrent. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes." Guns will never simply go away. Anti-gun laws will only neutralize honest people, those that are willing to turn over their guns, and do nothing to curtail criminal action. In fact, transgressions will undoubtedly increase if this deterrent is removed and criminals have the monopoly on firepower in a disarmed populous.

But a government is so much more dangerous than any band of thugs or thieves; something the men who wrote and signed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were very conscious of. For example, because of their concern with a military coup d'état they put a civilian in charge of the armed forces as commander in chief. But preserving the right to keep and bear arms was also paramount. Noah Webster wrote, "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed.... The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword because the whole body of the people are armed." One of the stones on the path to oppression is disarmament as it was in British India, Nazi Germany or Communist China.

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 Second Amendment is by far the most debated section of law in the United States Constitution. Hopefully this literal interpretation in context, along with some historical background will help convey that the right to keep and bear arms is for every person. This amendment does not grant that right, the right is assumed to exist regardless of any words written on paper. The clause simply restricts the government from infringing upon that right because it is important to have a well-regulated militia.

Sources
http://www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/constitution_history.html
http://polisci.spc.uchicago.edu/~jtlevy/constitution/Pennsylvania1.html
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/presiden/inaug/jefinau1.htm
http://www.gpoaccess.gov/constitution/html/amdt2.html
http://www.constitution.org/2ll/schol/2amd_grammar.htm
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment02/
http://www.constitution.org/leglrkba.htm
http://www.guncite.com/journals/har1915.html