The Second Amendment: The Bill of Rights

The 2nd Amendment is a simple one, coming in at just one sentence. Yet, it is the one that people in the United States argue the most about today regarding its meaning. This is a description of that amendment, what it says, what it does not say, and what the Founding Fathers probably intended, as well as what we have no way of knowing what their intentions were.

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The second amendment in the Bill of Rights is one that is often brought up in modern politics. It is a quick and easy amendment, and it does not say much. In fact, what it doesn’t say is often the cause of debate on its actual meaning today. This amendment seems straightforward, but there is much between the lines to read, or not read, depending on your interpretation of it. One of the jobs of the US Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution, including the amendments like the Bill of Rights, taking into consideration what they believe were the original intents of the Founding Fathers. Yet, in spite of all of the attention this amendment receives these days, the Supreme Court has not, thus far, made a definitive interpretation of it. Therefore, we are all left to interpret it for ourselves for the time being.

The Second Amendment

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.

As you can see, this amendment is just one sentence. Yet it says so much and leaves so much unsaid at the same time. Obviously, the Founding Fathers expected that the colonial militias, which were just part of average daily life before the Revolution, would continue to exist once the war was won, as they spell it out in this amendment—they believed a militia to be essential to keeping a free state secure. Why would this change after the Revolution was won, they must have wondered?

In those days, local militias were an expected part of everyday life, and they were made up of the everyday citizens of the colonies (men only in those times). These militias did regular training exercises, usually weekly or monthly, at least. This is the part of the amendment that refers to a well regulated militia. Those were part of the times and the place.

In order to be in a militia, one must own a weapon. It didn’t have to be a gun, but it usually was, typically a musket or a rifle. Since any citizen could and should be in a militia, according to the life and times of the Founding Fathers, the government had to allow the people to keep these weapons. Therefore, the government was not to infringe upon this right. To the Founding Fathers, keeping a weapon at the ready, and being fully trained to use it, ideally in a militia setting, was essential to keeping the free society they fought so hard to establish.

Of course, the Second Amendment does not say what type of weapon a person can keep. This is where the arguments come in today. There are those who say the Founding Fathers only intended muskets and rifles, because that is really all there was at the time (well, except canons and swords), so that is all the people today should keep. Others point out that the amendment does not say what type of weapon a person can keep, so it can be any type of weapon.

It is clear that the Founding Fathers meant for the people to protect themselves and their freedoms with weapons that they themselves owned and kept at their homes. The question remains as to what type of weapon is Constitutionally acceptable. Until the US Supreme Court issues an opinion on this issue, we will be kept wondering, and probably arguing about this part of the amendment.