As I have been studying the US legal system recently, I thought it would be appropriate to explore a bit of law interpretation today. The law we will be discussing is one of the most debated of all time, the second amendment to the US constitution. It states:
“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.”
Over time, this law has mainly been interpreted in two ways. The first claims that the right of gun ownership should be given only for the purpose of a state organizing a military group. The second argues that gun ownership is not only a right of the militia but also the people. Which of these is more relevant and accurate today? To better understand the second amendment and its current implication, we must examine each of the arguments in further detail.
The first statement we discussed is often associated with a liberal standpoint. It implies that there should be strict regulations on firearms and who may use them. Basically, the right of gun ownership should be for members of a state military group.
This is such a common interpretation of the second amendment for the following reason. When looking at the law, one may notice the phrase that begins it. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” This part is called the prefatory clause. It appears to put a limit on gun rights by specifying who can carry a gun. Some historians have said that the framers of the Constitution intended this when they wrote the Constitution. They wanted to make sure that the states could defend themselves, not that individuals could defend themselves. Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens supported the latter in his dissent, in the famous case of DC v Heller, which gave citizens the individual right to own firearms. He said:
“The second amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.”
It seems liberals might be on to something when it comes to protecting our nation.
However, conservatives may have an argument that is just as supported. The second statement we discussed is attributed to them. Gun ownership is not only a right of the militia but also the people.
The second clause in the second amendment, called the operative clause, is the main source of the conservative interpretation. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
What one can infer from this, is that gun ownership is a right of the people, meaning everyone, for self-defense and protection. Supporters of this interpretation will say that the prefatory clause is a merely a reason for giving access to all. The amendment could possibly be rephrased to emphasize this important factor. Perhaps a bit like this:
Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
In 2008, DC v. Heller promoted this viewpoint and turned the country in a more conservative direction. This is not surprising, considering the conservative Chief Justice, John Roberts, who presided over the case.
Now, let’s go over everything one more time to clarify. Liberals say that people should only be allowed to own firearms if they are serving in a state militia. Conservatives say that everyone should be allowed access to a gun for personal uses like self-defense. Although the government is promoting the conservative opinion currently, we are likely to see shifts in the future. There are a lot of people talking about this issue who are willing to act on their beliefs. Current events and new court decisions may shape the gun control issue, as well.
I hope I helped you to better understand these interpretations of the second amendment. Please take a few minutes and leave a comment down below about your opinion on gun control and how you think the government should be handling it. Be sure to be respectful of other readers and their comments, so that nobody comes out feeling hurt. I may remind you that people who don’t like your nasty comments have gun rights as well. Thanks for sticking with me on these government-related adventures! See you next time!