The Second Amendment: Conclusions
Now that we have looked at what the Founding Fathers thought, as well as the First Congress and the thoughts of ordinary citizens, what does it all mean?
Was the Second Amendment about the militias?
Yes. The Congressional Journal and verifiable quotes from the Founding Fathers make it crystal clear that the primary objective was to ensure that the state militias had arms.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 16 gives Congress the power to arm the militias:
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
The clause also allows the states to appoint officers (except Generals) over the militia and the authority to train them under the rules that Congress makes.
Congress has the exclusive authority to arm the militias, but this is where some of the states started balking at the Constitution.
Article I, Section 8, clause 12 gives Congress the following power:
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
The states feared that Congress would use that power to create a standing army, something they feared greatly since the Revolution had just ended four years prior. They also feared that Congress would neglect the militias and defund them, depriving them of the arms needed.
They also feared that Congress my fund some, and defund others, or give more money and better arms to create a Select Militia, their own private army.
In short, they feared a government that could wipe out the state governments. They also feared that the States would have little control over so many armed people.
Mather Byles asked: “Which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?”
Mel Gibson was given a similar line in the movie The Patriot, but the above is an actual quote from a Boston clergyman. Byles was a Tory, a Loyalist, and he asked a very valid question. Why would you want to trade a tyrant who was across the ocean for several petty tyrants in your backyard?
That is why several people were quoted as saying the militias had to be answerable to the civil power, the executive power. Allowing each town to run its own militia was just begging for trouble.
Was it so that the so-called “slave patrols” could roam the south searching for fugitive slaves? Absolutely not.
Georgia and South Carolina never asked for such an amendment. Virginia had concerns about this, but New York and New Hampshire didn’t have “slave patrols”. Massachusetts debated the matter, but ultimately rejected asking for such an amendment, which is kind of ironic since the British came to seize arms located in Massachusetts. Massachusetts also did not allow slavery, the first State to outlaw it.
Did the Founders mean muskets only? No. Whoever says or suggests such a thing is an idiot of infinite proportions.
There are many things that fall under the category of arms. There are small arms (rifles, muskets, swords, pistols, sabers, spears, etc.) and large arms (cannon, artillery, warships, tanks, etc.)
As explained above, one of the great fears was that Congress would use their powers to create a Select Militia. A Select Militia is a militia that has better training and better arms than other militias. These Select Militias would then become the private army of Congress, or the President.
Noah Webster made it clear that the militia, or the people, needed to have the same weaponry as a standing army if they had any chance of opposing that army. Yes, that means airplanes, tanks and other weapons we would not consider allowing people to own.
The Constitution implies that private citizens can own warships. See Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, and look up the definition of Letters of Marque and Reprisal.
Of course, the first argument is that the Founders had no inkling of jets and tanks. That’s true, they didn’t.
However, they knew that weapons evolved and new ones came into being out of the course of war. Look up the Turtle sometime.
The Supreme Court talks of reasonable restrictions. Larger forms of arms, such as nuclear and chemical weapons can, should be, and are reasonably restricted. As a society, we do not want weapons such as these being bought and sold on the open market. I’m sure if the Founders knew what kinds of weapons we have today, they would agree that some weapons need to be restricted.
But if larger arms can, and should be restricted, why not smaller arms?
A ban or restriction on smaller arms, such as so called “assault” style weapons is unreasonable. People like to say that it is for the children and to prevent mass shootings. Taking away “assault” rifles will not prevent people from using other types of weapons to shoot people, nor will it prevent them from making bombs, as a student in Albany, Oregon was arrested for a couple of weeks ago.
Small arms provide a variety of functions, be it sport shooting, hunting or self defense. The reason the “assault” rifle is a preferred weapon of choice is because of the ease of handling and reloading. It is much easier to handle than a shotgun.
Most people do not walk into a school and start shooting the place up. Banning “assault” weapons punishes the innocent, not the guilty, and prevents nothing.
If you look over the quotes provided, many suggested, and several state constitutions that the right to arms shall not be infringed, unless that person commits a crime. For the record, the California Constitution does not guarantee its citizens the right to arms. If a person commits a crime, they lose their right to arms, not if a person commits a crime, everyone loses their right to arms. We have it so ass backwards today.
But the expectation was that everyone who had arms would also be trained in their use. Weapons are useless if the person operating it is not competent in their use. This also goes for planes, tanks, ships and other assorted weaponry. Everyone was to be trained in their use.
Because of the fear of standing armies and that Congress might defund the militias, the Second Amendment says that militias are necessary for the security of a free state, so the people’s right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The key words are “free state”. The militia is subordinate to the civil power, that is, the state governments and at times, the Federal government. The militia was for the defense of the state against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Citizen militias, which are not subordinate to the state are illegal under the Constitution.
In order to prevent the Federal government from defunding the state militias, because if they do, the militias, and the people, still have their own weapons.
Was it so the government could be overthrown?
In the extreme case, yes.
The Constitution was written after the Founding Fathers had just overthrown a government. To say that they felt that we shouldn’t so the same is ignorant.
Since New York, one of the leading states after the revolution was afraid that the Federal government would use a standing army to destroy the state governments and subjugate the individual states, allowing the people to retain their arms would serve as a deterrent to the Federal government a) attempting to overthrow the state government by force and b) Federalizing the militias and leaving the states defenseless.
It is about protecting the state from the Federals, and thus, the people from the Federal government. A final check on the government so to speak.
In the debate over the Second Amendment, both sides have staked their claims to one part of the amendment, not taking the whole into account.
Historically, the Founding Fathers had just successfully overthrown a tyrannical government that had taken steps to oppress the people. The fear was that a new, more powerful central government would disarm the people (like the British tried to do at Lexington & Concord), dissolve the state governments (like the British tried), or use their power to create a Select Militia to conquer the states.
They may not be concerns to us today, but they were back then. The Federals eventually realized they needed to have a standing army to protect against Indian incursions and to protect settles moving west. Since that day, the government has moved to expand that standing army, and has created the National Guard out of the former state militias.
In addition, the Federal government uses the 16th Amendment taxing power to subjugate and coerce the states.
Everything the Founders feared in government is now coming to pass.
This does not mean that the government cannot and should not protect and defend itself. It will. After the Revolution, there were countless rebellions, including Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts, and the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania.
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.
Let’s try it in modern English.
A militia that is well trained, disciplined and functioning is necessary for the security of a free State, not the central government. As a safeguard against aggression by the central government or foreign enemies, or the dissolution of the militias by the central government, the people shall retain their rights to keep their arms to defend their states and their homes against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and use them if they need to.
A little wordy, eh?
Let’s try this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
There’s your right to overthrow the government, just like our ancestors once did.