What the Second Amendment Says and What It Means to Us

The President has taken up skeet shooting to show gun owners that his various gun control proposals and executive orders are nothing personal. But, personal or not, the first question in this debate remains not what the President says, but what the Constitution says.  

The Second Amendment strikes me as particularly anti-federalist in origin and construction.  Critics of the new order did not believe that the constitutional machine would reliably run of itself. They wanted to specify a number of rights, among them guarantees from the English Bill of Rights, including, both for public and private safety, the right to keep and bear arms — but with a difference.  

In Britain, the gun right was qualified by class and confession, limits entirely unsuited to the new nation based on universal rights. Then, too, Britain’s government was unitary, while under the new American charter sovereignty was divided.

As did no other protected right, the scope of the British gun right traversed the borders of federal and state sovereignties. For example, invoking private safety would have implied federal police powers. How to guarantee the right without implying that the federal government possessed powers not intended for it — and that anti-federalists especially were determined it not acquire?

 The answer?  With these phrasings:

  • “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state” grounded the amendment within the federal reach agreed upon at the 1787 convention;  

  • “the right of the people” established universality;
  • “shall not be infringed” acknowledged that the right already existed (hence, could be infringed upon), thereby incorporating into the U.S. Constitution the full sweep of the protection without explicitly referencing the British law and tradition that defined it (another drafting necessity). 

Inconvenient though it may be, our core law still matters, at least for now. For the federal government, that law is clear: “The right of the people… shall not be infringed.” Wouldn’t it be more productive anyway to focus on the violently insane, both to keep guns from them and to provide care for them?

The preceding is, of course, my reading of law and history. What is yours?

  1. BrentB67

    Most of the Amendments to the Constitution seem anti-Federalist and that is the foundation for our Federal Government. There are a very few things the Federal should do, it should do them well, and stay out of everything else.

  2. BrentB67
    Devereaux: The problem, of course, is that the Left has no intention of simply solving the problem. Rather they wish to use the excuse of the problem to further their agenda.

    Any careful reading of the 2A will reveal that the NFA of 1934 is simply unconstitutional. Interestingly, it has led to the basic disappearance of automatic weapons. Not that they are not manufactured. Only that they are not allowed to be owned by citizens. This didn’t happen overnight, just as confiscation of our current weapons won’t happen overnight. But it will happen if this continues.

    Note again that today the whole left simply takes for granted that it is unacceptable for citizens to own automatic weapons. There is no discussion aboutwhy this should be so; just that it is “bad”. Yet arguably it is these exact weapons that are protected by the 2A….

    This doesn’t get talked about enough. If someone wants to institute those restrictions, amendment is the way forward.

  3. Illiniguy

    The Founders weren’t concerned about deer hunting, they wanted to ensure that:

    “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security”

    they’d have the means to do so. The Second Amendment speaks to the relationship of the citizen to the state, the gun is the means to which a tyrannized citizenry can resort to throw off despotism.

    If the relationship between the citizen and the state has changed to such a degree that we the people no longer possess the revolutionary right described above, then the only honest debate we can have is one of doing away with the amendment altogether.

  4. Tom Riehl

    Certainly there are abundant topics concerning the 2nd amendment to discuss and argue about, both among ourselves and with the opposition.  But, the real crux of the matter is this sentence from Clark:

    “Inconvenient though it may be, our core law still matters, at least for now.”

    Similar to the debates about various new government-control issues, this is the crux.  Obama and his minions are determined to fundamentally change our republic’s adherence to rule of law.  To focus on minutia is to lose the argument in any venue.

  5. Devereaux
    Tom Riehl: Certainly there are abundant topics concerning the 2nd amendment to discuss and argue about, both among ourselves and with the opposition.  But, the real crux of the matter is this sentence from Clark:

    “Inconvenient though it may be, our core law still matters, at least for now.”

    Similar to the debates about various new government-control issues, this is the crux.  Obama and his minions are determined to fundamentally change our republic’s adherence to rule of law.  To focus on minutia is to lose the argument in any venue. · 0 minutes ago

    So once again we get back to controlling the terms of debate.

    I  submit that we seem to be doing a decent job of that with this whole weapons issue. While the MSM makes great efforts to paint this as irrational, they are being beaten back – and they know it. Note that they keep giving ground and have now fallen back onto background checks and “closing the (mythical) gun show loophole”. Much of the other argument seems halfhearted at best.  “Hunting” and “need” are becoming laughable.

    Now we need to punish the pols who voted against us in the next election. Work to beat them.

  6. Robbie Vedrenne

    It is telling that the gun-control advocates, when forced to explain their positions against the the law, contort and bend their arguments to the breaking point.  Clark makes a good argument on the history of the 2nd amendment, but the current argument made by the democrats and pro gun control pundits plainly do not have any respect for the law, the constitution or the historical journey from the English Bill of Rights to the 2nd amendment.  As of today the most refreshing phenomena to come out of this “national discussion” on guns is the clear vacuity of the argument making the 2nd amendment to primarily apply gun sports.  Scrutiny has made the genius of the 2nd amendment shine.  The right belongs to the people and the state is to refrain, not dictate. 

    Inconvenient though it may be, our core law still matters, at least for now.  For the federal government, that law is clear: “The right of the people… shall not be infringed.”  Wouldn’t it be more productive anyway to focus on the violently insane, both to keep guns from them and to provide care for them?

  7. BrentB67

    There isn’t any debate that the progressive gun control lobby wants to restrict guns, but there isn’t a clear political party that wants to repeal regulations and return to a Constitutional government.

  8. Devereaux

    Perhaps this is a good place to make the observation that it seems a LOT of what we claim/demand is simply not attainable. We couldn’t keep North Korea from getting a nuke, nor will we be able to keep Iran from the same. We have limited law abiding citizens from having automatic weapons, but that has hardly eliminated them from either use or being on the street. My Soviet State of Illinois outlaws spring knives, but they are actually in fair abundance.

    I suspect the Founding Fathers understood this truth. You cannot limit knowledge, technology, things. We have laws making it criminal for ex-cons to own weapons – but they do. We criminalize drugs – but they are everywhere. Crazy people kill others – it’s part of paranoid schizophrenia. So we refuse to look at THAT problem, which covers a small number of people, and instead look to abrogate the rights of many. We “fight” poverty and develop a whole collection of people that now don’t work and think the “gummint” should take care of them instead.

    ?When did we lose our rationality.

  9. Devereaux

    The problem, of course, is that the Left has no intention of simply solving the problem. Rather they wish to use the excuse of the problem to further their agenda.

    Any careful reading of the 2A will reveal that the NFA of 1934 is simply unconstitutional. Interestingly, it has led to the basic disappearance of automatic weapons. Not that they are not manufactured. Only that they are not allowed to be owned by citizens. This didn’t happen overnight, just as confiscation of our current weapons won’t happen overnight. But it will happen if this continues.

    Note again that today the whole left simply takes for granted that it is unacceptable for citizens to own automatic weapons. There is no discussion about why this should be so; just that it is “bad”. Yet arguably it is these exact weapons that are protected by the 2A.

    Chris Wallace today was outright angry with LaPiere (but softballed Kelly). But he, too, made comments about how it was clearly wrong for citizens to own automatic weapons. This argument needs to be made forcefully. I understand that it may not be the time, but soon…

  10. Duane Oyen

    The problem is that Obama has publicly declared that this is an individual right, so that some guns may be owned.

    But you will not be allowed to have any ammunition for them.

    The government can’t outlaw it- so instead, it will buy up all of the ammo capacity for some imaginary government purpose, prohibit imports via bureaucracy, and regulate away via “safety” and “environmental” rules, all attempts to increase capacity to meet market needs.

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