The Second Amendment
Several months ago I became curious. Why didn’t the authors of the Second Amendment simply write, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” No other amendment prefaces the establishment of a right with an explanation that looks almost like a justification or even an apology. So I reviewed the history of the Second Amendment and I was very surprised.
The Revolutionary War ended in 1783. Our present government began when the Constitution was ratified in 1788. In the intervening years, we had the Articles of Confederation, which created a very weak central government. When armed citizens revolted to protest the taxes imposed to pay for the war, it could do nothing. When Shays rebellion erupted in Massachusetts, Governor Bowdoin raised private funds to create a militia to stop it. These events played a key role in the thinking of the authors of the Second Amendment. They wrote the words, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” not because they favored armed insurrection by citizens, but because they feared it. They intended the Second Amendment to guarantee to the states that each state was authorized to create “A well regulated Militia” to put down insurrections.
In our free society we can certainly debate the merits of private citizens owning guns. But if we claim that the Second Amendment guarantees that right, we are misunderstanding and misinterpreting the intent of its authors.