The American Right to Keep and Bear Arms – Modern and Historical Context

By Rick Barkett 

For hundreds of years American citizens have enjoyed the right to “keep and bear arms” within the United States of America. The founders of the nation found it necessary to amend the Constitution, allowing for non-military persons to carry weapons capable of self defense, particularly referring to firearms. While there is no disagreement over the existence of the Second Amendment, there is, as with all ambiguous legal writing, a fierce debate over the true meaning of the Constitution’s creators.

A common interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution follows that “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,” refers strictly to a MILITIA, as opposed to simply an individual. In order to understand this argument fully it is important to recognize the situation of the budding nation during the drafting of the Constitution (and the subsequent Bill of rights). There was a tangible fear of foreign invasion, as the newly formed country was vulnerable in its early stages, as well as a much greater risk of large scale internal strife (several notable ‘rebellions’ took place during America’s infancy). As such, state and local militia’s existed in almost every area of the country, acting more as a police force rather than a military unit. There is no real local ‘militia’ in 21st century America, thus, opponents of gun control argue that there is little ground to stand on when combating gun-control legislature.

Using this “interpretation” or argument against the individual’s privilege to own private firearms does not take into account other factors and opinions of the founding fathers. Using the context of a local militia to argue for gun control, against the second Amendment, is definitely not foolproof. The term ‘militia’ in the context of the Second Amendment referred to most able bodied men ages 18 to mid 40s. The militia was not a standing force; the weapons were both privately owned and stored.  A local militia does not necessarily imply a government recognized organization, rather, a group of well-rounded, peaceful individuals interested in protecting themselves and their families. When taking this interpretation into a modern context, it makes perfect sense to allow individuals the right to weapons for self defense.

Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams both stated their views concerning the right of the individual to own weapons, shedding some light on the ‘correct’ interpretation of the Second Amendment. According to Jefferson “no free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms,” mentioning nothing of a militia. The State of Arizona’s Constitution directly includes provisions for its citizens with “the right of an individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the State.”

Another primary threat to personal freedom, that the Second Amendment was created to prevent, is the potential of the central government to become a despotism or dictatorship. A well armed population is much more of a threat than unarmed civilians attempting to defend themselves against a military force. This is an often overlooked aspect of the Second Amendment; however, it remains a critical piece to the foundation of freedom in this country. The Second Amendment gives every citizen a “fighting chance” in the event of hostility, be it from their own country or from robbery, theft or other types of crime.

Strict gun control laws negatively affect honest, law-abiding citizens of the nation, and would do little to deter those with violent intentions. A simple example of this concept exists in Prohibition, a period of time in the early 20th century where alcohol was made illegal within the United States. Most people still got their daily drinking in, the difference was the source. Many hardworking individuals who worked in or owned drinking establishments were unable to make ends meet, smugglers on the other hand made money hand over fist selling alcohol illegally. In the event of strict gun control, those who want a weapon for a shady, violent purpose would have little trouble getting hold of one. If an honest, peaceful citizen wanted one for protection, he or she would not be able to obtain a mode of self defense without breaking federal law.

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