Often we perceive that there is a constitution debate around whether or not the American government can limit or restrict the ability of people to bear arms. This is ironic, because after even a cursory glance at the constitution, it’s easy to see that there is no debate.
Take a look at the actual wording of the Second Amendment:
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“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.”
There are numerous interesting pieces of vital information that can be taken from this short and sweet sentence. Let’s look at the first half of the sentence first:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state,”
There are two essential points of this statement. First, the right to bear arms is directly tied to the “security of a free state” and second that the best way to ensure this security is through a militia.
To understand this statement one needs to understand the general conditions at the time of writing the Constitution. The Founding Fathers did not envision the United States as maintaining a huge standing army, for the nation was then a small agrarian country with a sparse population, not an industrial behemoth home to some 330 million people.
Instead of maintaining a huge standing army, the Federal and State governments would maintain only a small professional fighting force that could then be supplemented by a large and well-trained militia. In order to raise this militia, and thus to ensure the security of a free state, the United States needed a population that was both armed and familiar with weapons.
In a strict sense then, the Constitution only guarantees the right to bear arms in so far as it guarantees the security of the state. In the strictest sense, this right to bear arms only comes in context to the ability to form a “well-regulated” militia. This militia would have to be strictly trained, controlled, and directed and only within this context are people guaranteed the right to bear arms. Now, that the U.S. has a large professional military, this well-regulated militia is no longer necessary.
The second portion of the second amendment “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is interesting because of the way some Supreme Court rulings have interpreted it.
In 1875 the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Cruikshank that the limitations on restricting access to firearms only applied to the national government, not the state government. While other rulings, and general legal consensus now supports the notion that Federal rights override state law and that states cannot restrict rights guaranteed by the Constitution, this view point remains interesting none-the-less.
By now pro-gun right lobbyists and supporters are probably trying to search my ISP address or to hunt down my email address. Take a deep breath, this article is not meant to argue that gun rights should be restricted, but instead to point out that gun rights are not an absolute and unregulated right under the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution provides only a minimal right within the context of securing a free state through a well-regulated militia. Beyond this context, for better or worse, the Constitution does not provide any additional protection. This does not mean that gun rights can or should be restricted, but instead that so long as any laws did not infringe on the “security of the free state,” restrictions could be applied. Whether or not such restrictions should be applied is a wholly separate matter.