The right to keep and bear arms may be the single most controversial and most contentious right listed in our Bill of Rights.Much of the root of that contention is in understanding what the founders and framers actually meant.
What is the Second Amendment really about?
This is a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.
So many questions over the Second Amendment: is the amendment outdated?
If the Founders and Framers had been aware of the kind of weaponry we have today, would they have included the right to keep and bear arms in the Bill of Rights?
Is the Second Amendment about hunting and sportsmanship?
Let’s begin with the actual language of the Second Amendment:
“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.”
Some legal analysts say that it was not until the 1980s that the militia part of the Second Amendment became ignored, and thanks to an all-out push by the NRA the meaning of the Second Amendment was expanded from militia to the individual.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker article, “So You Think You Know the Second Amendment?”:
“The re-interpretation of the Second Amendment was an elaborate and brilliantly executed political operation, inside and outside of government.
“Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 brought a gun-rights enthusiast to the White House. At the same time, Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, became chairman of an important subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he commissioned a report that claimed to find ‘clear-and long lost-proof that the second amendment to our Constitution was intended as an individual right of the American citizen to keep and carry arms in a peaceful manner, for protection of himself, his family, and his freedoms.’”
Toobin’s analysis may be historically correct in as far as the change in modern or public view of the Second Amendment, but he is wrong when he indicates that the Second Amendment did not originally mean private ownership of a gun for individuals.
“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.”What is a well regulated militia? What were the Framers talking about really? Of all the fears of the Founding Fathers, none was stronger than their fear of standing armies.
As constitutional scholar David Young has observed: “The necessity of an armed populace, protection against disarming of the citizenry, and the need to guard against a select militia and assure a real militia which could defend liberty against any standing forces the government might raise were topics interspersed throughout the ratification period.”
This may be a very foreign concept, but the first fight over the Second Amendment wasn’t over whether the population should be armed. All the Framers agreed with that. The fight was between federalists and anti-federalists over whether we would have a standing army.
The Anti-Federalists―among them George Mason, Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams―were militant advocates of the inclusion of a bill of rights in the Constitution because they did not trust the power of the federal government to be restrained.
Don Kates, a scholar of the constitution and Second Amendment, points out that, “During the ratification debate, the Federalists vehemently denied that the federal government would have the power to infringe freedom of expression, religion, and other basic rights—expressly including the right to arms. In this context, Madison secured ratification by his commitment to support and to safeguard the fundamental rights that all agreed should never be infringed.”
In short, the Federalists—including men like John Jay, James Madison and George Washington—wanted the Second Amendment because they believed a strong federal government would be able to control a standing army.
And the Anti-Federalists wanted it because it would mean every able-bodied man in America would be armed in the event that the federal government or America’s own standing army turned on its own people.
I told you it’s a hard truth. And that is what you need to know.
The Second Amendment is not about hunting, or even just defense of your own home. It was written by men who ultimately believed that governments and armies would turn on their own people.
The Second Amendment was written to guarantee that would never happen.
Editor's note: This segment of Ben Swann's "Reality Check" was originally shared on Truth in Media on November 2, 2015, and has been modified slightly for publication on IVN.