Published DateTo the editor,
Today I will discuss the 2nd Amendment, which 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."
This amendment is confusing and misunderstood so I will break it down for you.
Many people don't understand it because of the way it starts, speaking about "A well regulated Militia." People think "Militia" refers to the National Guard and this is sadly mistaken.
The original meaning of the word militia, as defined by our Founding Fathers is every citizen that is able to carry a weapon into battle. George Mason said during the debates about the Bill of Rights "I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for few public officials."
James Madison, who authored the Bill of Rights, said "The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops." This helps to explain why the amendment says "... being necessary to the security of a free State..."
It is also important to differentiate that the beginning of the amendment talks about a well regulated militia and ends talking about the right of the people. This creates much of the confusion and drives the question, why was it so important to the ratifying states to add this amendment to the newly written Constitution.
The simple answer is that Article 1, Section 8, Clause 15 gives Congress the power to call forth the Militia of the several States but does not identify the states power to control the Militia. In Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 the President is given the authority of "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into actual service of the United States." The several States felt they needed it clarified that the Militia was comprised of the citizens of their States and operated under their authority except when called into national service.
Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia Delegate to the Continental Congress, initiator of the Declaration of Independence and member of the first Senate said "To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them." But this was not the origin of this right.
Under the laws of King Alfred the Great, whose reign began in 872 A. D. all English citizens from the nobility to the peasants were obliged to privately purchase weapons and be available for military duty. While a great many of the Saxon rights were abridged following the Norman Conquest, the right and duty of arms possession was retained.
It was because the Militia was pressed into service by England that France was defeated during the French and Indian War and it was this same Militia pressed into service by the Continental Congress that defeated the British and started a new country.
Patrick Henry said in the Virginia Convention on ratification of the Constitution "The great object is that every man be armed... Everyone who is able may have a gun." It was George Washington who said "Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence ... From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable . . . the very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that is good."
The New Hampshire Convention on ratification of the Constitution, which put the Constitution into effect and created the United States of America said in it's ratification statement "It is the Opinion of this Convention that certain amendments & alteration in the said Constitution would remove the fears and quiet the apprehensions of many of the good people of this State & more effectually guard against an undue Administration of the Federal Government — The Convention do therefore recommend that the following alterations & provisions be introduced into the said Constitution. 'Congress shall never disarm any citizen unless such as are or have been in actual rebellion.'"