When the framers met in Philadelphia in the blazing summer of 1787, fierce debate ensued. The Anti-Federalists and the Federalists squared off to decide exactly how much power would belong to this new central government they were creating, and how to ensure that it wouldn't become tyrannical. Despite the disagreements, however, there were certain ideas and principles that they all agreed on, as some of them had even put their lives on the line to defend them years earlier.
Among these were the natural rights that preceded man and government, those inalienable rights that Jefferson eloquently touched on in the Declaration of Independence. The right of self preservation was never a question to the framers. Federalists and Anti-Federalists alike understood that the right to bear arms was essential to a free people.
As soon as the flame for American independence began to burn at a heat that frightened the British, they began taking serious gun control measures. It is commonly understood that unwarranted searches and seizures and unfair taxation led to the colonists' revolt, and while this is true, many scholars argue that the attempted confiscation of colonists' firearms is what actually fast-tracked the conflict into violence.
Constitutional law expert David Kopel writes, "The ideology underlying all forms of American resistance to British usurpations and infringements was explicitly premised on the right of self-defense of all inalienable rights." This not only sheds light on the philosophical undertones of the Bill of Rights, but also makes clear the practical purposes of the second amendment, which lies in the framers understanding that the right to bear arms is the only sure defense of an individual's other liberties.
In contemporary times, however, it is no secret that the second amendment is under attack. Much of this attack has been directed towards the wording of the text. It reads, "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." Gun control advocates like to argue that the second amendment provides only the right for a state to maintain a militia, and not an individual right to keep and bear arms. This is foolish for several reasons and from several perspectives.
For example, MarketWatch columnist Brett Arends argues that the contemporary National Guard is what the framers envisioned when drafting this amendment, writing, "The Second Amendment is an instrument of government." The problem with this is, as Historian Tom Woods points out, is that this type of military force is already provided for in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution. Moreover, such a reading of the Bill of Rights would also just be blatantly inconsistent. Whereas the other nine amendments are widely understood to be protections from government, one would have to make the leap that the second amendment acts as a mere permission slip to join on with a government force. A government force, I might add, that can be federalized, as it was by President Eisenhower in 1957.
When the framers spoke of militias, they were referring to the sort that played a crucial role in the winning of the South in the War for Independence. A good example would be Francis Marion's rag-tag group of South Carolinians, who, amidst many loyalist neighbors and superior British forces, were able to cut off British supply lines and drive the Red-Coats back up to Yorktown, where British General Cornwallis would eventually surrender to Washington. This Militia brought their own weapons from home to fight with, not government issued rifles, and used them to fight off tyranny. This is likely a group that the framers had in mind when they proposed the second amendment as it was ratified.
Thankfully, we have more than just the words in the Constitution and interpretations of historical events to go by. We have records and documents that reveal to us exactly what the framers were thinking when they decided to ratify the Bill of Rights, more specifically the second amendment. George Mason, whom many consider to be the father of the Bill of Rights, said this of the militia, "I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them." Thomas Jefferson, one who believed in a tight interpretation of the Constitution, who advocated for the legal philosophy that the laws be enforced in the spirit of which they were written, stated, "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." Tench Coxe, a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress who eventually held posts in the Washington and Jefferson administrations, is responsible for some of the most firm words of the time in support of the people's right to bear arms. Coxe wrote, "As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms."
The man deemed the father of our Constitution, James Madison, later credited Coxe's writings as an essential part of the Constitution's ratification. Furthermore, the phrase "Well-Regulated" in the text of the second amendment is clarified by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #29, where he explains that a militia should train to achieve, "the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia." This would require, especially at the time, that each man have his own weapon to train with and does not refer to government regulation.
If that isn't enough, the original wording of the second amendment as proposed by Madison states, "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." Perhaps this wording would have provided less controversy, but nonetheless the meaning of the text remains the same.
The evidence, historically and legally, is stacked in favor of the second amendment containing an individual right. Regardless of the facts, however, the second amendment will continue to come under attack. While the Supreme Court got it right with the 2008 Heller decision, the death of Justice Scalia leaves the original intent of the second amendment exposed to the whims of liberal jurisprudence. Some leftists will stick to the belief that the right to bear arms is collective despite the facts, and others will flat out say that they think that the Constitution is outdated and should be done away with. Then, at least, we will know where they really stand.
(Contributing Source: beaufortcountynow.com)