Insurrections often are propagated upon misinformation.   So too are the most recent band of domestic terrorist who like to hide behind our most sacred American institutions.  In this series, I want to explore the Bill of Rights and why some of the hype and hyperbole thrown around by the extremist is not just wrong but dangerously misguided.

Over the next several weeks, I will discuss the history of our constitutionally protected rights and why Congress chose to codify these and not others.  I am not an attorney so I will not go into some of the legal aspects of these amendments, so please don’t ask me if your religious obsession for cordite is protected by Amendment 1 or Amendment 2.  I plan to focus on why these amendments exist. 

Today, I want to discuss Amendment 2:

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.”

Okay, before we get started let me vent…  The second amendment DOES NOT mean you can bring your AR15 to a protest and threaten people.  The first amendment is clear – “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  Carrying any sort of armament is clearly not “peaceably” petitioning redress.  In fact, George Washington tested this early in his Presidency when he sent the army to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.  It is also clearly not the intent of the original Congress to restrict which arms are covered under the 2nd Amendment.  I would argue that Congress expressly intended for “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” to mean MILTARY ARMS not just sporting weapons and certainly not concealed weapons.  But these are my interpretations.  Partisan judges have ruled differently for a number of reasons over the years. 

So, enough politics.  Why did the first Congress want to protect the right to form militias and keep arms?

During the Revolutionary War era, “militia” referred to groups of men who banded together to protect their communities, towns, colonies and eventually states, once the United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776

In the late 18th Century, many people in America at the time believed governments used soldiers to oppress the people, and thought the federal government should only be allowed to raise armies (with full-time, paid soldiers) when facing foreign adversaries. For all other purposes, they believed, it should turn to part-time militias, or ordinary civilians using their own weapons.  Opponents of a strong central government (Anti-Federalists) argued that if only the national government had an army, the states would be deprived of their ability to defend themselves against oppression. They feared that Congress might abuse its constitutional power of “organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia” by failing to keep militiamen equipped with adequate arms.

Despite the protections built into state constitutions like Pennsylvania’s (“The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.”), the issue of individual gun ownership was never really a question in the 1790’s.  On the American farm, even today, a gun is a tool used to manage livestock and environmental threats (like wolves).  People who needed guns owned them but MILITARY GUNS (like muskets, the 18th Century assault weapon) were not useful to farmers but were critical when mounting any sort of marshal response to threats.  The second amendment was about the ability of the states to maintain their sovereignty and the people to resist tyrannical governments. 

I am not going to go into the political and legal history of the second amendment other than to say it is perhaps the most litigated of all the amendments.   People imbue it with meaning it was never meant to have and both romanticize and vilify its text and context.  One thing is definitely clear, over the last 240 years we have lost our understanding of what a “well regulated militia” and the “right to bear arms” really means.

I know this blog article with disappoint almost everyone but I am hoping to “dodge the bullet” by not going too deep in this very contentious amendment.

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Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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