Militia vs Individual Right: The True Meaning of the Second Amendment

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The Second Amendment to the Constitution states that 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 interpretation of what the founding fathers intended for it to represent has been unclear since its ratification in 1791. Because the people are not clearly defined in the Amendment, it is left to the person interpreting the text to decide. With this debate over interpretations, there are two sides; those who advocate for gun control and those who oppose it. In the wake of numerous mass shootings within schools and other highly populated areas; however, there has been a push by the collective side to increase gun control with stricter laws. The central argument put forth by the advocates is that the Amendment only secures the right for states to maintain and train militia units to provide protection against an oppressive government. Those with an opposing view assert that the Amendment gives every citizen the right to bear arms, free of federal regulation, for the purpose of protection and/or recreation. Both of these interpretations have helped shaped the ongoing debate over the Second Amendment and, the right to bear arms, but the history and grammar of the Second Amendment clearly assert the views of the collective side.

The Founding Fathers initially wrote the Second Amendment due to the belief that governments were prone to oppress their citizens through soldiers. To combat this, they only permitted the government to raise armies for foreign entities. For other purposes, the government could rely on civilians who supplied their own weapons. Much has changed since 1791 however. The United States’ military has become immensely powerful in comparison to the eighteenth century armies. Furthermore, eighteenth century civilians kept at home the very same weapons they would need if called to serve in the militia, while modern soldiers are equipped with weapons that differ significantly from those generally thought appropriate for civilian uses. Civilians no longer expect to use their household weapons for militia duty, although they still keep and bear arms for defense and purposes of recreation. Furthermore, the meaning of the Second Amendment was clear to farmers and other citizens; that the people have a right to possess arms when serving in the militia. Additionally, the regulations of weapons has always been prevalent. In the fourteenth century, a series of Game Laws expressly restricted weapons ownership to members of the gentry who met thresholds of income and land ownership; guns were for the wealthy, not the peasants or the lower middle class.

The opponents of gun control have argued that for linguistic reasons the first part of the Second Amendment should be regarded as prefatory and not taken into account to the interpretation of the phrase collectively. In addition, they reinterpret the meanings of the phrase bear arms and the word militia in ways that support their cause but go against the sense those words had in the federal period,

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