What is the 2nd Amendment?
The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is perhaps the most hotly debated portion of the constitution. It's worth taking a closer look at it to see just what the discussion is all about.
Libertarians know what it's all about - the right to keep and bear arms. The right that protects all the rest of them from an over zealous government that wants to control citizens like there were subjects.
We have to recognize that the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution is part of our Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the constitution, and it was necessary to get the constitution ratified (approved) by the original 13 states and established as law of the land.
So, that alone tells you that the 2nd amendment has to be an important part of the constitution. Let's look at some curious facts about the amendment so we can better appreciate it's importance.
The 2nd 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."
It is a single sentence, and it is the second of the enumerated rights in the Bill of Rights. Okay, to understand it better, we need to look at:
- Other portions of the Bill of Rights
- The English language
- Context of the times
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Federalist papers
Let's dive in and see what we see with respect to other portions of the Bill of Rights and what that might tell us about the 2nd Amendment. We have to remember that many hours were spend writing our constitution, and some very smart and articulate individuals were involved.
I have to think that careful selection of words and consistent use of words was a focus of their efforts. If not, the document would be difficult to understand and subject to misinterpretation.
Individual or collective right?
There is often debate about whether the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual right for you and me to keep and bear arms. Some think it is a collective right to have a militia or a national guard that keeps and bears arms, but not individual citizens.
Let's look at the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th amendments to the constitution to see what light they might shed on the issue of individual rights versus the right to bear arms as part of a militia. I choose only to look up to the 6th Amendment for the sake of brevity. The entire Bill of Rights is examined here.
In the quotes below, emphasis is mine.
1st Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging...the right of the people peaceably to assemble....
Are we all the same religion? Do we all go to the same church? Do we all worship together and in the same way? Nope. Each person can have his or her own religion, or none at all. And, religion is recognized as something that is individual in nature. So, it looks like the 1st Amendment is an individual right.
"The right of the people peaceably to assemble...." clearly shows it to be an individual right, and not something collective in nature. If we weren't individuals, why talk about assembling. A collective group is already assembled, so we would just talk about being peaceful, and nothing about assembling into a group.
Yep, the 1st Amendment speaks to individual rights. How about the other amendments?
3rd Amendment: "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner...."
Okay, that should be clear. Homes are private property owned by a person or a family, but not typically a group of individuals, and certainly not the group of people we call citizens. Unless of course we are talking about public buildings, but then, the amendment wouldn't refer to public buildings as a "house" with an "consent of the Owner". It would refer to buildings or structures or facilities, and owners.
Yep, the 3rd Amendment speaks clearly to people as being individuals, not a collective group. The 2nd Amendment is in good company, surrounded by amendments that apply to individuals.
4th Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects...."
Okay, here we read about people and their houses. This is the search and seizure clause that protects the accused from unreasonable searches and confiscation of property for criminal prosecution. It doesn't protect groups of people, but rather each citizen. Clearly this is an individual right since any individual can be charged with a crime.
Here as in the 1st Amendment, we see that people means individuals, not a collective group. It's looking more like the term people in the 2nd Amendment also means individuals.
5th Amendment: "No person shall be held to answer for any...crime,...nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy...nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself...."
This is clearly protection for individuals accused of crimes. This isn't protection afforded a group. So far, it's still looking like this Bill of Rights, and therefore the 2nd Amendment, is focused on individuals, not a collective group.
6th Amendment: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial...to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."
Again, it's clear with all the references to "him" and "his", that this is an individual right, otherwise the amendment would have said "them" and "they" after referring to the "accused".
So, why in the world would 5 out of the first 6 amendments to the constitution apply to individuals, but the 2nd Amendment wouldn't? It's clear that the Bill of Rights was contructed to protect individual rights, not a collective group of citizens serving in the militia.
And, the argument about the National Guard goes out the window too. First of all, the National Guard didn't appear on the scene until 100 years after the ratification of the constitution. The militia has been and always will be unpaid, non-professional citizen soldiers.
The mention of militia in the 2nd Amendment is merely an example why the right to keep and bear arms is essential for freedom. No other part of the Bill of Rights provides an example of the peoples' rights, so that attests to the importance of the 2nd Amendment.
Second, why would the Bill of Rights give the government permission to have a militia? That's what the rest of the constitution is for. Read the Bill of Rights closely, and you'll see that it's a list of things the government can't do.
So it makes no sense that this listing would specify things that the government is allowing itself to do, like have a well regulated militia. Again, that would be in the original part of the constitution, not the Bill of Rights.
Consider its position in the Bill of Rights
What can we learn about the importance of the 2nd Amendment with respect to where it is positioned in the Bill of Rights? Plenty I think.
It's in the second place, whereas it could very well be placed anywhere among the other nine amendments. If we look at highlighted portions of the first amendment, we see it addresses:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
Wow, that's a lot of stuff crammed into one sentence. You can see that many of these elements are the basics of freedom. Especially free speech and free press.
Imagine someone back in the day reading the first amendment and saying: "I get to attend church where I choose (not of the King's choosing), tell the government they are wrong, publish a pamphlet to let everyone know about the wrongs of government, hang out with my like-minded friends to talk about freedom and what's wrong with the government, and file my complaints with the government and demand they change."
Now, look at the position of the 2nd Amendment and imagine that same person back in the day saying: "And, if you try to shut me up, lock me up, intimidate me, or otherwise take away these important basic rights that we just fought a war over, then I'll dust off my musket and let that do the talking for me."
The 2nd Amendment is placed where it is as a way of saying "this is how we're going to keep all these rights." Our founders thought it was just as important as the basic rights we wanted to protect, so they put it up front and center.
Remember, the revolution started when England tried to disarm the colonists so they could be subdued. The first skirmishes were associated with protecting the armories, a key resource to winning freedom. That sensitivity to absolute power (tyranny) is reflected in the 2nd Amendment.
When you hear that the 2nd Amendment is the right that protects all the rest, it isn't an exaggeration. If we could ask those who fought in the Revolutionary War, I think they would enlighten us plenty.
Don't kick around the 2nd Amendment. Many people fought and died so we would enjoy it as our heritage and a form of protection from an overbearing and power hungry government. Libertarians believe that everyone has a right to be free, and that includes the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, defense of family, community, state and country.
Done with 2nd Amendment, take me back to Gun Rights