The debate over gun control versus the right to keep and bear arms is old, and has been a source of controversy and heated debate for a large portion of the United State’s history. The gun control advocates interpret the second amendment to attribute the right of “the people” to bear arms to a “well regulated militia.” The “right to arms” advocates interpret the second amendment to attribute the right of “the people” to bear arms to each individual. Only one of the two groups can be correct, and the interpretation of it tends to hinge on whether one exams the amendment with a loose interpretation of its language, or a more strictly literal lens. The original authors of the amendment had something very specific in mind. With careful reading of the amendment itself, and with consideration given to the previous drafts of it, a clear understanding of the goals and intentions of the authors can be understood, the various protections of our freedoms can be seen, not just to our right to firearms, but the protection of the other rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, the United States has far less risk of invasion by a foreign military due to our citizens being armed, and each citizen becomes empowered to protect his or her home from the criminal element.
The second amendment is very short, and was written in plain English. The authors of the amendment wanted it to be clear and easily understood by the common citizen. The second amendment reads 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 National Archives Museum). The sentence can be broken down into three parts. Part one consists of, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” The second part consists of, “… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms…” The final parts wraps it up, “…shall not be infringed.” The first two parts outline the two subjects the author wished to address. The third section is the action, performed on each of the two previous parts individually. So, the sentence can be rewritten into two sentences like this. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, shall not be infringed.” and “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Both elements are understood to be of equal importance to the freedom of the people, and both independent and supportive of each other. There is historical evidence to back up this interpretation of the second amendment.
The best way to determine the intent of the authors of the Bill of Rights is to read the various drafts of the amendment prior to the official one. It sheds light on their mindset, what their goals were. The first draft of the second amendment, as proposed by James Madison on June 8, 1789, reads 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 (Library of Congress).” One should note that the very first thing he discussed was the right of the people to keep and bear arms. This is illuminating. The militia was held for the second section. Mr. Madison chose to address the people first, indicating that the people are of utmost importance. Also not that the people are not the same as the militia, otherwise he would not have felt it necessary to mention both individually. Make note of the final part of the sentence. No person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person. He addresses an individual’s right to their religious belief. Thus, one can infer that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is an individual’s right, not a right only of the collective to have their militia. The people are not to be construed to mean the militia, or vice versa. The people are individuals, and the militia is the collective force of the state, or a group of citizens acting in concert, even if they act against the state.
Having just overthrown the British rule of the colonies, the authors of the second amendment wanted to ensure that the citizens could protect themselves from a tyrannical government, should one arise. Given that goal, the authors wanted to empower every individual to preparedness. A firearm, excepting ones used for hunting, are like an insurance policy. One buys one, hoping to never have to use it, but thankful if the need ever arises. It is better to have a gun and never need it, than to need a gun and not have it, or worse, not have the legal right to have it. Yet, the scope of the second amendment goes much further. The Bill of Rights secures our rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the freedom to gather peaceably to address the government for redress of grievances. Without the right to posses firearms, all of these rights could easily be nullified. Without firearms to keep the lawmakers in fear of the people, they would have little disincentive to legislating our other rights away. Our second amendment serves to protect our freedoms by standing as a buffer between the lawmakers and our other rights.
Since the Civil War, there has not been an invading foreign army on the United State’s soil. This is due in some measure to the citizens of the United States having ready access to arms. Any foreign army would obviously have to engage our military, but that would only be a part of their fight. There are millions of guns in homes across this nation. Each citizen in possession of a firearm becomes a threat to the invading force. This serves as a deterrent to invasion (Levinson, 1989). Very quickly, groups would coalesce together to form mini militias, or to assist local United States military forces. No other nation has a citizenry that is as well armed as that in the United States. However, invasions are not always on a national level. News stories often include home invasions.
I disarmed populace cannot protect itself from criminals. Criminals choose soft targets, ones that they feel give them a reasonable chance to get what they want, with less risk of personal injury. The criminal does not want to get into a gun battle with a homeowner, so they will target a home they believe to be unprotected. The same logic applies to all locations. Any place where firearms are prohibited becomes a soft target for an armed criminal. A prime example is a school. School shootings keep happening because the potential shooter knows nobody else on campus will have a gun. The criminal knows that they face little threat of opposition when they go after these soft targets. The police are very limited in their capacity to protect the populace. They cannot be at every location to thwart any armed violence. They can only arrive as quickly as possible, and most likely fill out an after incident report. At that point, the violence and crime have already occurred. The citizen needs the ability to protect his or her own home, his or her own life and his or her own family.
In closing, the authors of the second amendment put forth a sentence that will forever spark debate over its meaning. They could have been clearer in the wording, but with examination of their previous versions, the official one becomes clear. The second amendment protects the right of every individual to keep and bear arms. The right of the citizenry of the United States to keep and bear arms safeguards every other right enumerated in the Bill of Rights. It protects our freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble, and the freedom from unlawful search and seizure. The second amendment protects the citizens of the United States from their own government, and it provides them a deterrent to would be foreign invaders. The second amendment gives each person the right to have the means of protecting his or her home from the criminal element, and the right to the ability to protect themselves wherever they may go. The second amendment protects all of the rights of the United States citizen, not just their right to keep and bear arms.
Levinson, S. (1989). The Embarrassing Second Amendment. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from Constitution.org: http://www.constitution.org/mil/embar2nd.htm
Library of Congress. (n.d.). A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llac&fileName=001/llac001.db&recNum=227
The National Archives Museum. (n.d.). Bill of Rights. Retrieved September 13, 2014, from The Charters of Freedom: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html