The Truth about the Second Amendment to the US Constitution7/2/22
There are twenty-seven words in the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Tragically, the selective misinterpretation of these words by the National Rifle Association, pseudo originalists, politicians of both parties and those who fail to consider our history has resulted in unspeakable tragedy for our country and our citizens. This is essentially another big lie.
The authors of our Constitution were wordsmiths who chose their words carefully. Without a standing army and opposed to mercenaries, our framers were in favor of citizens taking up arms in a “well-regulated militia.” We are no longer living in the 18th century, though. And with that in mind, let’s examine the words of our second amendment.
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” Our Constitution defines the purpose of a well-regulated militia, and Congress provides for the organizing, arming and disciplining of that militia. The President is the Commander in Chief of the militia. The states are responsible for appointing the officers and have authority for training the militias. Congress also has authority over the magazines and arsenals that contain the weapons necessary for the security of the free state.
Households frequently put food on the table with a gun in 1787, but were not likely armed sufficiently to defend against a mass assault. During the colonial period when a colony was under threat from dangerous forces, citizens would go to the magazines and arsenals to obtain the weapons used to fight the threat.
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” It is interesting that the authors of our Constitution did not use the word “own” in this amendment. They also did not use the singular “person.” The plural “people,” as in “we the people of the United States,” implies a group right and responsibility rather than an individual’s right and responsibility.
The word “keep” also had a different connotation during the 18th century than it does today. “Keep” did not necessarily mean “possess,” but rather “control.” In Williamsburg just prior to the revolution, there was a confrontation between the royal governor and the local militia to determine whether the militia peopled by citizens or the royal governor controlled the weapons that resided in the Williamsburg Magazine. The first armed conflicts occurred in Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts. The British regulars were marching to these towns to take control of the weapons that resided in the towns’ arsenals, but were defeated by the citizen soldiers who maintained that they controlled those weapons.
As previously noted, the constitution’s authors understood that the militias would be peopled by citizens and that they, and not paid mercenaries, should keep and bear the weapons needed for the defense and security of a free state.
The framers indicated that these rights should not be infringed or undermined. Why, then. have the NRA, politicians, and possibly even members of our Supreme Court chosen to undermine the true meaning of our Second Amendment? The words do not need to change; but we do need to interpret them correctly, in their historical context, as they apply to the weapons we use today.
There is no constitutional right to own a weapon of war, and we must not confuse the right to bear arms in the 18th century with the right of individuals to own and use weapons for self-protection without adequate regulation today.
We have a legal right to own and operate a gun; and like a car, sensible regulation should be involved. A title to own one and a license to operate one should be required; and like an automobile, there should be age requirements and a waiting period and a test to determine an operator’s physical and mental capability to own and operate a gun.
And, like an automobile, there would be limits on how a weapon might be operated. We the people of the United States, in order to insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, must properly and effectively honor the intentions of the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
Our forefathers left little to chance. A strong majority of all Americans favor firearm regulation, and our Declaration of Independence affirms, “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Marc Ebersberger is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum and lives in Easton.