(By The Pragmatic Pundit)
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 ~ Amendment II
Many argue the Second Amendment means citizens are to be able to retain and carry firearms for all legal uses and that the “right to keep and bear arms” is an individual right, one that the federal government cannot “infringe” on in any way.
In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to possess a gun. One paragraph in the Scalia opinion has shaped gun legislation since the Heller decision. Scalia wrote:
“nothing in his opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Clearly, the Founders had no laws banning guns in schools and government buildings, nor laws prohibiting the mentally ill from possessing guns, or legal requirements for commercial gun dealers. These restrictions obviously reflected Scalia’s personal interpretation and beliefs. Quite an irony and contradiction for such a strict constitutional originalist.
The gun right’s advocates and the Supreme Court ignore the historical context in which the Second Amendment was derived. America was a new nation fighting for independence. There was no standing Army, so citizens (men) were implored to arm.
The Militia Act of 1792, signed by President George Washington, stated:
“Every “free able-bodied white male citizen” between the ages of 18 and 45 into a local militia company. Militia members were to arm themselves with a musket, bayonet and belt, two spare flints, a cartridge box with 24 bullets, and a knapsack. Men owning rifles were required to provide a powder horn, 1/4 pound of gun powder, 20 rifle balls, a shooting pouch, and a knapsack.”
The Act provided for the authority of the president to call out the militias, “whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe.”
Passed May 2, 1792
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act…it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia of such state to suppress such combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.
Passed May 8, 1792
Sec. 10. And be it further enacted, That the act, entitled to provide for calling forth the militia, to execute the laws of Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions,” passed the second day of May one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, shall be, and the same is hereby repealed.
The militia was first invoked by George Washington to put down the Whiskey rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in 1794, as well as for uprisings like the Shays’ Rebellion. The Act expired after two years, but was immediately followed by a Second Militia Act which made the provisions permanent.
Worried at the prospect of Union losses, and because of a decreasing supply of white volunteers, it became a widespread belief that “the only available men they could bring into the Union ranks were the slaves. The Act was amended by the Militia Act of 1862 during the American Civil War to allow African-Americans to participate as war laborers and soldiers, then finally replaced by the Militia Act of 1903, which established the United States National Guard.
Militias were formed to serve and protect the government, not to oppose it. The Militia Act could not be clearer. In fact, once you review the history, it is a common sense conclusion. It is illogical that the Founders were building a government in order to permit the citizens the ability to tear it down.
What it Means
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” is a clear reference to the Militias the government formed to guard against invasion by foreigners and Indian attacks just as the Militia Act states.
“the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” is equally understandable given the timing. In 1775, the British had tried to confiscate their guns and ammunition, launching The American War of Independence.
The following year, the 13 Colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration listed the tyrannical acts of King George III, including his attempt to confiscate their guns and ammunition.
Rebuffing the British monarchy on July 4, 1776, left the colonies with no central government. In June 1776, the Continental Congress began to work on a plan for a central government and five years later adopted the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were replaced by the Constitution in 1789.
The Supreme Court interpretation is, in my view, an activist, ideological reading that defies common sense. In 1776, the Founders needed to provide security for it’s citizens as well as preserve a way to enforce the law. There was no standing Army. Today we have the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Naval and Marine Corps Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Coast Guard, Homeland Security, ATF, FBI, CIA and the Police.
It is a mystery to me how such a clear declaration has morphed into the fanatical belief it has become.