“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 U.S. Constitution
When it was written in the late 18th Century, the Second Amendment was contemporaneous, clear and concise; easy to understand by all who read it. It was very short, because it was meant to be all-encompassing in its application.
But, language usage evolves with time, and in the intervening two-plus centuries the language of that amendment has become archaic, making it vulnerable to misinterpretation.
Unfortunately, every time gun control becomes a hot political issue, such as now in light of the recent Parkland school tragedy, we see the hoplophobes (anti-gun faction) attempt to exploit that vulnerability by trying to—either through ignorance or cynical manipulation—advance the claim that the gun rights protected by the Second Amendment only apply to uniformed militia organizations such as the National Guard.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me explain.
The U.S. Code is the body of the permanent general federal statutes of the country. According to “10 U.S. Code § 246 – Militia: composition and classes” the militia is defined as:
“(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.”
In other words, all law-abiding citizens, and those who have applied for citizenship, are members of either the organized (uniformed, such as the National Guard) or unorganized militia if they’re of military age.
Further, the right isn’t limited to just those of military age. The reference to the “militia” is simply recognition of the fact that a militia might at times be necessary, and it would be drawn from the at-large citizenry. That is why the amendment protects “the right of the people,” and not just “the right of militia members.” The right isn’t restricted to only those in one of the militias.
For those extremist hoplophobes who make the absurd claim that the word “militia” refers to the active-duty military: why would the founders need the Second Amendment at all when the Constitution itself, in Section 8, gives the federal government the power to “raise and support Armies” and “maintain a Navy.” In fact, that same section also states that the government may “provide for calling forth the Militia,” clearly distinguishing the militia as being a separate entity from the regular armed forces.
I believe that if the exact same amendment were to be written today in modern language, it would go something like this:
“Recognizing that the protection of a free state may require the activation of a civilian militia in addition to the standing military, and that the militia is composed of the citizenry at large, the right of those citizens to keep and carry arms in order to be proficient with their use shall not be infringed.”
The words “free state” are also crucial to understand. The founders were engaged in a revolution against what was the legitimate government of which they were citizens. As described in the Declaration of Independence, their grievances justified that revolt, and they were very aware that any government has the potential to become tyrannical.
That potential included the government they were forming. They wanted to make sure that the citizenry had the ability to remove that government should it become another tyranny, no longer a “free state,” and the way to do that was to ensure that the citizenry had the means to do so: arms. Guns. The same guns as the rest of the military, which they are expected to provide at their own expense.
Many people today scoff at the idea of average Americans rising up and overthrowing the government, saying that the idea of civilians standing up against American military might is ridiculous. I guess the Taliban haven’t yet gotten that memo.
The ragtag Minutemen started such a revolution against the single most powerful military on the planet… and won.
And what was it that caused that “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”? The Redcoats were marching on Lexington and Concord to confiscate the colonists’ guns.
That’s right. The precipitating event of the American Revolution was an attempt at gun control.
So, as we can see, the real purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect the right of law-abiding civilians to possess and use the same personal weapons as the rest of the military in order to assure a defense against enemies both foreign and domestic.
Brian Baker is a Saugus resident