February 13, 2017
I will preface this week’s blog post stating my family has had a tragic connection to gun violence. But wait, don’t stop reading just yet as you may be surprised with my opinion on this amendment.
The following is a transcription of the Second Amendment to the Constitution in its original form.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
There are two points here to be vetted: one, what is a militia; and two, the right of the people. And thirdly, are the two points irrevocably tied together.
First, a militia is nothing more than a citizen army. Remember, it was a militia that unbound our founding fathers from the rule of Britain. “Being necessary to the security of the free state” refers to the founders’ belief a militia is required to ward off tyranny.
Alexander Hamilton wrote in his Federalist Paper No. 29, published Jan. 9, 1788, that should government attempt to oppress the people with military force, it would find resistance from “a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights.”
This brings us to the second part of the clause, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” This is very clear, and separate from the militia clause; individuals have the right to own and carry a firearm. Again, I refer to Hamilton’s statement – he envisioned a body of citizens capable of using their firearms to defend their rights. Without firearms, the militia would have been ineffective in its efforts.
Some will argue the amendment was written in a pre-military era, when a militia was necessary, if not required. They will also argue the amendment is not giving everyone the right to bear arms, but rather just a militia, or in their minds the military now that it has been formed.
Congress officially created the U.S. military on Sept. 29, 1789, James Madison had written the initial draft of the Bill of Rights in June of that year. By September of that year, the amendments were sent to the states to be ratified, clearly indicating our founding fathers had intent for an organized military, yet still felt it necessary to assert an armed militia was required for security of the state.
The courts over the years have sought to determine the full scope of this right, debating what types of firearms individuals may own, etc. As society faces an increasing barrage of gun violence, we struggle to balance this right with our desire to maintain safe communities.
On July 20, 2012, my sister sat in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., just beginning to watch a midnight show. Her life was irrevocably altered when a mentally unstable man fired upon moviegoers. Time will never erase the images and sounds she witnessed that night; they are as vivid five years later as that day.
One might assume, faced with this tragic event, I would raise the banner of strict gun laws. Rather, what this incident has taught me is that we each have a right to bear arms, but not every person should have the privilege of owning a weapon.
The intent of the Second Amendment is to assert American citizens’ right to bear arms and the right of a body of citizens to act together to secure the country. How we regulate this right must be decided by the courts and the legislative branch. Denying some their rights because of the ill intent of others disparages the spirit of the document.
Laurie Chapman publishes Political Broad bi-monthly and takes an informative, opinionated peek at the functions of government. If you have a suggestion for the author, e-mail her at email@example.com or call her at 208-983-1200.