2nd Amendment was about the militia

Summary

 

There are a few fallacies, invented by progressives in the 30’s and 60’s to try to enact gun control and pervert what the Constitution and 2nd Amendment means. It was part of the “living document” delusion, that you can change meanings by make-believe, without following the actual letter/intent of law. So they prey on the ignorance of their base, and the lack of understanding in English, History, and the Constitution, to pretend that the 2nd doesn’t mean exactly what it meant for the first 200 years, and suddenly 150-200 years later, they found secrets that no other historians have ever found a scrap of evidence of  :

 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.

  • Well Regulated: they re-define the original meaning (in working order) to mean government controlled — it doesn’t.
  • Militia: they try to re-interpret to mean National Guard/Reserves, which was created over 100 years later.
  • Dependent clause reversal: they misinterpret English to assume that your right/liberty is dependent on being in the militia, instead of the truth that you have the right, so that you can be part of a militia (and that it is an obligation to own a gun, and do your duty).
  • “the People”, which means “individuals” everywhere else in the Bill of Rights, is invented to mean “collective / state”.

But all those were not only not recognized for the first 150+ years, but they’re been completely refuted by Linguists, Historians, Legal Scholars, and common sense. Gun control laws can be argued and debated, but there is no real doubt as to what the Second Amendment meant. And those who repeat a false claim they heard once, are just being foolish (not researching because it fits their confirmation bias). Anyone that’s looked knows how discredited those theories are. Those who repeat them after knowing that (or deny it), are just liars.

## Details

2nd 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.

I’ve heard many people try to distort the 2nd Amendment so that, "guns should only apply to those who are in the militia” or that it’s a people (plural) right and not an individual right, or other linguistic gymnastics, to proclaim that the 2nd doesn’t mean what English Scholars, Legal and Constitutional scholars, and the authors (in their own writings) intended.

### What does militia mean?

Words change meaning over time. The militia means what it meant at the founding, not what the word evolved to mean today.

At the time of the writing, the definition of militia was, "The whole body of civilians, that are NOT part of the regular army”. Since the Guard/Reserves are part of the regular army (or reserves), they are the unorganized militia (which was everyone else). Basically, anyone old enough to defend their home, town or country (that was not in the army already) was the militia.

But even today, the meaning hasn’t changed as much as some think. Some people mistakenly think it means reserves or National Guard (established 1903, and subject to federal control) — but since those didn’t exist at the time of authoring, there is no way it could have been the type of body envisioned by the framers. Today’s legal definition is, the "militia" consists of "all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age”, with a few exclusions for medical, mental or job deferments (by their choice) (10 U.S.C. 311 and 32 U.S.C. 313).

You don’t have to take my word for it, there are multiple Constitutional rulings and the words of the authors listed below — but they’re all variants of the following:

"A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves.. .and include all men capable of bearing arms… To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms…” ~ Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters From the Federal Farmer 53, 1788

## Is the 2nd dependent on being in the militia?

This is the other aspect of their argument: that you’d have to be in the militia to qualify for the 2nd’s protections. But they’re failing at English and what many English scholars have said about that argument.  The "well regulated militia" phrase is an "nominative absolute” (1) phrase which can be ignored. It is merely explanatory (descriptive) and dependent on the rest of the sentence (not the rest of the sentence is a dependent clause on it). Since you ignore normative/descriptive clauses, the 2nd can be read, "The right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.”

I like to offer the following example to demonstrate it to those being resistant. Let’s rewrite the first as the second was written:

> A well-schooled electorate, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be infringed.

No one would read THAT as you have to be a well-schooled electorate in order to keep and read books. The right to keep and read books must not be infringed, so we can all participate in a well schooled electorate. "Shall not be infringed" is not the type of wording one puts in, when something is conditionally dependent on something else.

## It is a collective (not individual) right

This is a refinement of the previous militia argument. That somehow this a right of the people (plural), meaning the collective — and not of individuals, thus the people can regulate it away. (The milia is us, so us can say you’re not the militia, and thus you don’t need your gun). However, six relevant Supreme Court decisions have recognized that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms, not a collective one.

The Bill of Rights was written to protect individual rights from the government: there has never been any historical, legal or linguistically evidence that it they were written to mean: “all these are individuals rights, except for the 2nd”. And if you claim that all of them are not individual rights, then your right to free speech, protections from illegal search and seizure, are also dependent on the public whims of the collective. The Framers understood the concept of a "right" to apply ONLY to individuals. So while it’s popular to try to teach "collective rights” in Colleges, no Supreme Court decision has ever held a right to be “a collective right”.

Again, you don’t have to take my word for it, there are multiple quotes, legal (Supreme Court) rulings, and the words of the authors and experts below. But the following seems to hit the nail on the head:

"The term ‘the people’ as explicitly used in the Second Amendment and elsewhere in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a term chosen by the Founding Fathers to mean all individuals who make up our national community." ~ U.S. v. Verdugo (1990)

Lately, a new distraction is that before the NRA got to it, it wasn’t an individual right. The problem is the reason the bill of rights was created was because in the ratification of the Constitution, too many people were fighting over the wording of the enumerated rights (of individuals). So they agreed to ratify the constitution, and get the bill of rights to enumerate the individual rights. So the whole reason why it was written was to protect the individuals rights.

Even the wording in the state ratification conventions (for the whole constitution) want it declare it in the Constitution even more explicitly:  

  • New Hampshire wanted it, "Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion."
  • Massachusetts wanted to "be never construed…to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable, from keeping their own arms.”
  • Pennsylvania wanted the Constitution to declare, "that the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own State, or the United States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals."
  • http://reason.com/blog/2016/06/20/the-second-amendment-the-bill-of-rights

One of the first Judges and law professors to ever write a study of the U.S. Constitution believed the Second Amendment had everything to do with self-defense, and not militias. St. George Tucker wrote on the issue all the way back in 1803 in his work View of the Constitution of the United States, calling the right of the people to keep and bear arms a hallmark of liberty:

> The [2nd Amendment] may be considered as the true palladium of liberty… The right of self defense is the first law of nature…. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color of pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.

## What about well regulated? 

Well regulated, at the time (and for 100 years afterward) just meant "something being in proper working order”, well calibrated or functioning as expected (5).

  • The words "well-regulated” is used as an adjective, modifying "militia," which is followed by the main clause of the sentence (subject "the right," verb "shall"). The right to keep and bear arms is asserted as essential for maintaining a militia. ~ Prof. Roy Copperud a seventeen-year career teaching journalism at USC. He’s on the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and Merriam Webster’s Usage Dictionary frequently cites him as an expert.
  • In Heller, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (2007) ruled, the Amendment does not protect “the right of militiamen to keep and bear arms,” but rather “the right of the people.”  And that lead the Supreme Court to weigh in, and agree, "[t]he adjective ‘well-regulated’ implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training.” (6)

If "well regulated" meant "under government control”, then it would no longer be a militia, but the army/navy.

But even if we pretend that it did mean “government regulated”, it is still irrelevant, because it was part of a normative/descriptive clauses, and thus whether the people should be able to keep and bear arms so they can choose to be part of a militia or not, doesn’t change that their right to do so, shall not be infringed.

Now there’s an even more expansive view, that “well regulated” points to the 2nd being more than just an individual right (as it has been since the 19th century), but instead is a civic right (civic responsibility) in the 18th century (7). This is even worse for gun controllers, because that view means that you not only had a right to bear arms to belong to a militia, but you have a civic responsibility as a citizen to do so (almost mandatory service). Which is so anti-gun control that it says they’re failing in their responsibilities as Americans by NOT buying guns and becoming part of a well functioning militia. So the gun-controllers are better off with it being an individual right, than letting it become a civic one.

However, remember that the first time that "well regulated" might have been a back door into inventing new restrictions on the 2nd, wasn’t invented until the 1960’s. (This was after the first wave of gun control in the 20’s and 30’s had only increased our crimes and shootings). But what they’re arrogantly proclaiming is that they discovered a word ambiguity that the Founding Fathers, and their progeny, never knew of.  So for the first ≈200 years of the country, every Historian, Linguist, Legal and Constitutional scholar or mind that had read these things, was too stupid to realize what the 2nd really meant, and thus we should ignore all that stare decisis (legal precedence, and history), and common sense, because these new hippies knew more than anyone and everyone else before them. Does anyone really buy that?

Historical reminders

This nation was founded on freedoms, including gun freedoms, and to guaranteed no more encroachments on individual liberties. So the founders felt that government/politicians would be less likely to infringe on the rights of individuals knowing that they might be shot for doing so, or that corrupt laws could be resisted if politicians passed them anyways. That’s why they didn’t create standing armies (in times of peace), but only armies in times of need (2). We may have evolved to allow standing armies later, but that doesn’t change the intent for individual liberty of self-defense, nor eliminate the rights of the people to have their own guns.

Remember, the colonists’, war of independence was started when the British army marched on Lexington and Concord to try to enforce a recently-passed ‘assault weapons’ ban. Paul Revere’s ride with "the British are coming”, doesn’t make sense out of context: the British Regulars had been in America all along. (We were British). The point of the cry was to warn everyone that, "the British were coming to take away our guns!” The king had said we did not need our own arms, we must trust the king’s army to protect us! (Which means the ability to defend ourselves, and self determine our own fates as free men). And that’s much of what started the revolutionary war (and the shot heard ‘round the world’).

Ben Franklin had quite a few variants of the same succinct point (about this very issue, in that very time):

 "Any society that would give up liberty to gain security, deserves neither, and will lose both.

The second amendment was part of the Constitution (that was about protecting individual liberties from Government), and a follow on to the Declaration of Independence (which a declaration of those inalienable rights), in the context of just getting our liberty from a Centralized Authority (Monarchy). In that context, it says quite clearly that we (the PEOPLE) should be allowed to have guns, because the rights to life, liberty and property are inalienable, and if we didn’t have the right to protect those, for ourselves (and make it costly or dangerous to infringe on them), then what rights did we truly have?

I have quite a few quotes below to back up what all real Historians know — these were not people to empower the State to micromanage their lives, like good collectivist sheep. These were separatists that had been driven out of England, then driven into war with England (the largest power in the world), and they were damn well not going to make the mistakes of becoming slaves/wards of their new government. So they said things like this:

 “Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and the keystone under independence… The rifle and pistol are equally indispensable… The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that is good."  ~ George Washington  

"The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun.” ~ Patrick Henry, in the Virginia Convention on the ratification of the Constitution.  

 "Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion…in private self-defense.” ~ John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787-88

Conclusion

Gun controllers may want to revise the Constitution, and fortunately for them, there are ways to do that (like Constitution Referendum, or an Amendment). They’re welcome to try. I’ll resist, and if they succeeded there would be civil war, but at least be honest about it.

If we value the Constitution and rule of law, then we have to respect and defend their intent, not distort them because some wished they meant something else. You can’t be for perverting the law, and then claim they support the rule of law when it suits you. So men of integrity must fight these vapid arguments, because if we allow the perversion of our laws for convenience, then our Constitution and Laws mean nothing (and the liars and bullies win).

Jefferson even warned against this very problem of progressive idiots in the future, trying to pervert the intent and meaning of the Constitution, to take our liberty:

 "On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”  ~ Jefferson, June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p. 322

As did Samuel Adams: 

How strangely will the tools of a tyrant pervert the plain meaning of words! 

Gun control laws can be argued and debated, but there is no doubt as to what the Second Amendment meant. The folks that used a poisonous snake as their flag, saying “don’t tread on me”, in the context of fighting a war which was partly about their gun rights, put in a guarantee to that liberty. And no one rational believes their original intent (in that context) was to write something so vague, that a future bureaucrat could lawyer their rights away, or that you could only own guns if you were in the governments militia. This isn’t just my opinion. This has been ruled on by Linguists, Historians, Constitutional Scholars, the Supreme Court (6 times), and by the authors themselves. Thus there’s no intelligent ambiguity on these topics: any fuzziness was only invented in the 1960’s (≈200 years later), by the disingenuous hippies, and only repeated by uninformed gullible rubes. Repeating it once, makes them a fool. Repeating it after being schooled on it, makes them a fraud.

## References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_absolute
  2. http://www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/articles/1/essays/52/army-clause
  3. http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/10/A/I/13/311
  4. http://www.constitution.org/2ll/schol/2amd_grammar.htm
  5. http://www.constitution.org/cons/wellregu.htmhttp://bearingarms.com/well-regulated/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution#Meaning_of_.22well_regulated_militia.22
  7. http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195147865.001.0001/acprof-9780195147865
  8. More Gun Quotes: http://igeek.com/?p=152
  9. Penn and Teller on meaning of militia: https://www.facebook.com/943217815696587/videos/1110264185658615/
  10. Interactive Constitution: http://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-ii

## Militia Meaning:

  • http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/10/A/I/13/311 – (a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard. (b) The classes of the militia are – (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
  • Quotes:
  • "I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people… To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” ~ George Mason, during Virginia’s ratification convention, 1788
  • "I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.”  ~ George Mason, 3 Elliott, Debates at 425-426
  • "…A well-regulated Milita, composed of the Gentlemen, Freeholders, and other Freemen was necessary to protect our ancient laws and liberty from the standing army… ". ~ George Mason
  • "A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms . . . To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms…” ~ Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters From the Federal Farmer 53, 1788
  • "…It is always dangerous to the liberties of the people to have an army stationed among them, over which they have no control…The Militia is composed of free Citizens. There is therefore no Danger of their making use of their power to the destruction of their own Rights, or suffering others to invade them.” ~ Samuel Adams
  • Legal:
  • "The right of bearing arms for a lawful purpose is not a right granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.”  ~ U.S. vs Cruikshank (1876)
  • "All citizens capable of bearing arms constitute the reserve militia, and the states cannot prohibit the people from keeping and bearing arms so as to disable the people from performing the (militia) duty to the general government.” ~ Presser v. Illinois (1865)
  • "The militia is comprised of all able-bodied males" ~ U.S. v. Miller (1939)
  • D.C. versus Heller concluded that the 2nd, "protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia".
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (2007) ruled, the Amendment does not protect “the right of militiamen to keep and bear arms,” but rather “the right of the people.”  And that lead the Supreme Court to weigh in, and agree, "[t]he adjective ‘well-regulated’ implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training.”
  • "The argument that today’s National Guardsmen, members of a select militia, would constitute the only persons entitled to keep and bear arms has no historical foundation.” ~ Joyce Lee Malcolm, Professor of History. Author, To Keep and Bear Arms (Harvard University Press 1994)

## Individual/Collective Right:

  • Quotes:
  • "In recent years it has been suggested that the Second Amendment protects the ‘collective’ right of states to maintain militias, while it does not protect the right of ‘the people’ to keep and bear arms. If anyone entertained this notion in the period during which the Constitution and Bill of Rights were debated and ratified, it remains one of the most closely guarded secrets of the 18th century, for no known writing surviving from the period between 1787 and 1791 states such a thesis". ~ Stephen P. Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed (1984).
  • "The whole of the Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals… It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of.” ~ Albert Gallatin of the NY Historical Society, October 7, 1789
  • "…It is always dangerous to the liberties of the people to have an army stationed among them, over which they have no control…The Militia is composed of free Citizens. There is therefore no Danger of their making use of their power to the destruction of their own Rights, or suffering others to invade them.” ~ Samuel Adams
  • Legal:
  • In 1990, the Supreme Court observed in U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, that the right to keep and bear arms, like rights protected by the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments, is an individual right held by "the people," which the court defined as all "persons who are a part of a national community”.
  • "The right of a citizen to bear arms, in lawful defense of himself or the State, is absolute. He does not derive it from the State government. It is one of the high powers delegated directly to the citizen, and is excepted out of the general powers of government. A law cannot be passed to infringe upon or impair it, because it is above the law, and independent of the lawmaking power.” ~ Cockrum v. State
  • "All citizens capable of bearing arms constitute the reserve militia, and the states cannot prohibit the people from keeping and bearing arms so as to disable the people from performing the (militia) duty to the general government.” ~ Presser v. Illinois (1865)
  • "The right of bearing arms for a lawful purpose is not a right granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.”  ~ U.S. vs Cruikshank (1876)
  •  The militia is comprised of all able-bodied males, adding that "ordinarily when called these men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of a kind in common (military) use at the time.” Thus all military style weapons (assault weapons) were especially protected under the 2nd Amendment, but it allowed government to regulate Short Barreled Rifles (SBR’s) and sawed-off shotgun because they didn’t have application to the militia. Ironically, a few years later, the military order thousands of short-barrelled rifles, sawed off shotguns and carbines, specifically restricted under Miller, proving that even those restrictions were wrong. ~ U.S. v. Miller (1939)
  • The term "the people" as explicitly used in the Second Amendment and elsewhere in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a term chosen by the Founding Fathers to mean all individuals who make up our national community. ~ U.S. v. Verdugo (1990)
  • D.C. versus Heller concluded that the 2nd, "protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia".
  • Law Reviews: Since 1980, of thirty-nine law review articles addressed the Supreme Court case law, thirty-five supported the individual right view and only four support the "collective right only” view. Three of these four are co/authored by employees of the antigun lobby.
  • "The states’ rights reading puts great weight on the word ‘militia’, but this word appears only in the Amendment’s subordinate clause. The ultimate right to keep and bear arms belongs to ‘the people’ not ‘the states.’ As the language of the Tenth Amendment shows, these two are of course not identical when the constitution means ‘states’, it says so. Thus as noted above, ‘the people’ at the core of the Second Amendment are the same ‘people’ at the heart of the Preamble and the First Amendment, namely citizens.” ~ Akil Amar, Professor of Law, Yale, The Bill of Rights as a Constitution, 100 Yale, (1990)

## Historical Context

  • "The peaceable part of mankind will be continually overrun by the vile and abandonded while they neglect the means of self-defense….Weakness allures the ruffian but arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe and preserve order in the world…. Horrid mischief would ensue were the good deprived of the use of them….and the weak will become a prey to the strong.” ~Thomas Paine
  • "A government resting on the minority is an aristocracy, not a Republic, and could not be safe with a numerical and physical force against it, without a standing army, an enslaved press and a disarmed populace.” ~ James Madison, The Federalist Papers (No. 46).
  • "To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them…" ~ Richard Henry Lee, 1788, Initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights.
  • "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms… disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” ~ Jefferson quoting 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria in On Crimes and Punishment, 1764
  • "On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”  ~ Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823, found in The Complete Jefferson, p. 322
  • "The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun.” ~ Patrick Henry, in the Virginia Convention on the ratification of the Constitution.
  • "The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.” ~ Alexander Hamilton, the Federalist Papers at 184-8
  • "Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American… [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” ~ Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
  • "The Constitution of the United States shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” ~ Samuel Adams, during the Massachusetts U.S. Constitution ratification convention, 1788. Also Published in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, Aug. 20, 1789
  • "Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion…in private self-defense.” ~ John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787-88
  • "The Second Amendment is not the right to shoot deer, it is to defend your liberties if we’re taken over by tyrants” (or the collective) ~ Judge Andrew Napolitano (New Jersey Superior Court Judge, Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Brooklyn Law School)

Updates:

  • Written 1987
  • Updated 1997
  • Updated 2002 
  • Updated 2015

2 Replies to “2nd Amendment was about the militia”