Truth Too Near The Heels

Second Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified 15 Dec 1791): 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.

Dear America:

The 2nd Amendment doesn’t say what you think it does. Let me explain. To understand where the need for the 2nd Amendment even came from, we need to take a little trip back in time. Imagine you live in colonial America, before the American Revolution, when you were still subjects of King George III.

Prior to the 1760s, it was completely normal for each colony to have a state militia… men who had their own muskets and would train in preparation of defence of their colony against natives, or the French. The idea that those militias would ever be used against the British was not something most colonists ever considered.

By the 1760s, however, colonial rule in America had become fraught with political tension. In 1764 it became much more tangible when Britain began using the colonies to pay for the Seven Years’ War (from which Britain was in massive debt. First the Sugar Act, then the Stamp Act in 1765, then Townsend Act in 1767. The colonists argued that taxing the colonies specifically to raise revenue for the British coffers was unconstitutional. Britain, however, disagreed, and the series of revenue acts continued.

Colonists opposed to these revenue acts, and fuelled by the speeches of colonial politicians, began stockpiling weapons in secret locations in case the need to rise up against the British came to fruition. The number of colonists who believed this would ever come to pass was, in 1769, very small. However, when British colonial agents caught word of the stockpiling of weapons, they began using the revenue acts as a way to disarm the colonists and prevent an uprising. Between 1769 and 1775, attempts to keep the colonists from stockpiling weapons included entrapment, banning the sale of powder over a specified amount, banning  and then embargoing the import of gun powder and weapons, and arresting those defying the ban.

By the mid 1770s, there were stockpiles of weapons all over the colonies and each state had their own secret militias. As the British Parliament continued to pass revenue acts, the American colonists became more rebellious, leading to the dumping of tea in the Boston harbour in December 1773. In 1774, in retaliation to the Boston Tea Party, British Parliament passed the coercive acts, which included even stricter restrictions on weapon and powder possession. By the time the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the British military had confiscated hundreds of weapons and thousands of ounces of black powder, and imprisoned dozens on charges of treason for violating the bans.

During the revolution, the British army attempted to stem the flow of supplies to the American military by search and seizure of weapons and powder. As history knows, of course, the British were unsuccessful and in October 1781 the British surrendered at Yorktown. After the failed attempt at a government under the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was written with very specific intent to create a government unlike the one that had ruled the colonies for 160 years.

During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the framers decided to give Congress the power to raise an army and navy of unlimited size for the defence of America. The anti-federalists objected to so much power lying with the federal government (using Britain’s colonial rule as reason that states should have more power than the federal government…a theory which had already been proven not to work during the Article of Confederation years), and so they demanded a Bill of Rights, something they borrowed from English law, in an attempt to put some limits on federal power.

The 2nd Amendment was an assurance to the anti-federalists that state militias would not be disarmed in light of the fact that the constitution gave the federal government unlimited power to raise an army of any size. The anti-federalist were concerned that the power to create an unlimited standing military force would make it very easy for the federal government to act much like King George had in suppressing the rights of the colonist. The guarantee that state militias would not be disarmed helped to dissipate the fears of most anti-federalist in regards to a federal military force, and the 2nd Amendment was born.

The debate about the power of the 2nd Amendment began before it was even ratified. Many federalists feared that it gave the possibility of “mob rule” (as had been seen in the increasingly blood French Revolution, while the anti-federalists maintained that the it made sure that the federal government could never take away  the right of any state to have their own defensive force. Upon ratification of the Constitution in 1789, the 2nd Amendment remained, albeit it with slight different language than James Madison had originally written it in.*

The first time SCOTUS took up the issue of the 2nd Amendment was in 1867 when they ruled, in United States v. Cruikshank, that the right to bear arms was not a Constitutional guarantee and the 2nd Amendment only applied to the federal government. In 1939, in United States v. Miller, SCOTUS ruled that any state could limit any weapon that didn’t have a direct “reasonable relationship” to preserving a “well regulated militia.” It wasn’t until 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that SCOTUS applied the 2nd Amendment to individuals, although maintaining that federal, state and local governments had the right to restrict both sales and possession of firearms.

See, the interesting thing is that even SCOTUS, in a landmark decision declaring that the 2nd Amendment applied to individuals, still affirmed the right of the federal government to limit the kinds of ‘arms’ the people had the right to ‘bear.’ It’s ironic that the 2nd Amendment was written to appease a group of men who were concerned with the power of a federal government to ban weapons and therefore make state militias impotent, and even in declaring the rights of the people to own weapons SCOTUS made sure that the rights of the federal government to restrict such weapons was stated.

Here’s the thing, though: America doesn’t have militias, what were once state militias have become the National Guard. The initial, and original, intent of the 2nd Amendment was to make sure states didn’t ever lose their rights to defend themselves against a tyrannical federal government. Each state now has a standing defence force, commanded by the governor, which serves the purpose of a barrier between the federal government and the states. The original intent was not to make sure every American could own a gun, but rather to make sure that the federal government would never become like King George and order the army to attack its own people. The framers of the constitution wrote the 2nd Amendment to prevent the tyrannical power of an unchecked federal government…it was never intended to protect the rights of each individual person to own a weapon that’s put the United States on par with countries like Columbia and Brazil and Mexico and South Africa in terms of yearly gun deaths. Regardless of definition, mass shootings, gang murders, domestic violence, armed robbery, and accidental deaths put the number of gun-related violence in the United States at approximately 30,000 deaths and 85,000 injuries a year.

So, America, your right to own a musket or flintlock pistol in order to join the state militia should the federal government become tyrannical and attempt to establish martial law is absolutely something the 2nd Amendment gives you. But in today’s world, none of that would happen. The National Guard has taken on the roll that state militias would play in that scenario, and modern firearms have become horrifically capable of inflicting insane damage with one pull of a trigger. Even Patrick Henry would be appalled to see the way in which the 2nd Amendment has been perverted in modern day America.


*The original draft of the 2nd Amendment said: 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.

The final draft removed two comma and changed ‘best security of a free state’ to ‘necessary to the security of a free state,’ but those changed didn’t negate the original intent of the amendment.

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