“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.” – the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
There are probably no more contested words today than those quoted above, and no more misunderstood and misapplied. This article lacks the scope to explore all of the Amendments and their histories, therefore we will focus on the Second Amendment. It was written at a time in which every person (specifically males) of the age of majority – and many who were not simply joined in – were expected to take up arms in defense of home and Nation. There was an extremely broad base of knowledge of safe firearms handling and usage, and the Militia noted in the Amendment was the people, as the only standing army for the Continent was very small and could never hope to repel a battle-hardened professional army such as that of the British, or the French, or the Spanish. Therefore the people themselves were expected to join in the defense of their Nation, because doing so meant the defense of their homes.
In this era, the people had access to, for the most part, the same types of armaments that their counterparts in a large professional army had, save for perhaps heavy- and crew-served artillery. They needed this access because as stated above, they were the Nation’s military.
This is also one of the areas we have our disconnect: there is no knowledge of the history of the Amendment, the context surrounding it, or the reasons for its inclusion in the Constitution. The United States today has one of the largest professional armies in the world among four branches to handle international disputes, as well as a professional law enforcement apparatus to handle domestic crime, therefore many people fail to see the need for citizens to keep and bear arms.
The need for citizens to keep and bear arms still rests in the fundamental right to be secure in our homes and persons (the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution), as well as the right to defend them or a third party from whatever may threaten them, be it the State or others. This is the crux of the Second Amendment today: the inalienable right to defend oneself and one’s home/loved ones against unlawful attack, whatever the source. It is also the reason that all sworn State officials take an oath to the Constitution, instead of a party or individual. For example, the FBI’s oath of office reads,
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
The Framers of the Constitution recognized that allegiance must be to the Constitution – not the State – as a limit on the power of the State to protect the people. This is why it’s sometimes said that sworn personnel are “sworn to protect the people.”
However, the State isn’t the only threat to the liberty and security of her citizens. The threat also comes from people who would harm others. Remember there was no legal law enforcement apparatus at the time of the Constitution’s adoption, so calling Police to respond, investigate, apprehend, and sometimes, eliminate, wasn’t an option. This is not to say bad guys didn’t exist or weren’t armed; they absolutely did and absolutely were. The only difference is that there was no law enforcement apparatus, and largely no statute, by and under which to deal with the bad guys.
Today, the situation both has and has not changed. It has changed because we have a large, professional military to repel foreign threats, and a large, professional law enforcement apparatus to repel domestic threats. It hasn’t changed in that there are far more citizens than law enforcement officers (in some areas the ratio of law enforcement to citizens tops 1:1,000, or one law enforcement officer for every one thousand citizens) but the fact that bad guys exist and will harm others hasn’t. Even worse, sometimes law enforcement can’t get there in time to stop the bad guy before he/she harms someone. This is where we still need the Second Amendment to ensure that the people, who should absolutely have the right to defend themselves, are on equal footing with the bad guys. Just because a law exists that says a convicted felon can’t legally buy or possess a firearm, doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Because of that, a means has to be preserved to ensure that citizens always have the means to meet force with force, and sometimes deadly force with deadly force. This is one of the reasons we need the Second Amendment, and why it’s still valid.