Right to Bear Arms

The Right to Bear Arms

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. —Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The primary author of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was James Madison. It is part of the Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution which were written and ratified to address charges that the federal Constitution did not offer enough protection from government infringement upon individual rights.

Scholars disagree about the meaning and intention behind the Amendment. Some people hold that it was originally intended to protect the collective rights of the people to hold arms for the purpose of maintaining peace through state militias that could be called up in response to emergencies. Historically, all white men between the ages of 18-45 were obliged to serve in state militias, although the obligation was rarely enforced. This argument emphasizes the first part of the Amendment: A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.

Other scholars argue that the Second Amendment was intended to protect the individual's right to bear arms for purposes other than militia service. This argument focuses on the phrase "the right of the people," which also appears in the First and Fourth Amendments. Both the First and Fourth Amendments clearly protect individual rights.

With the March 2007 U.S. Court of Appeals decision, Parker v. District of Columbia, striking down a restrictive gun control law in Washington, DC, the decades-long debate about whether and to what extent the Second Amendment protects the individual's right to "keep and bear arms" is again front and center. The last time the U.S. Supreme Court decided a Second Amendment case was in 1939. That case, U.S. v. Miller, was heard in the wake of Prohibition (1920-33) and the significant rise in 1920s and 30s of organized crime and associated gun violence. Some commentators are now predicting that a Parker appeal will likely be heard in the future by the Supreme Court—possibly bringing clarity to the meaning of the contentious Second Amendment through the high court for only the second time in over 50 years. It is a timely topic for conversation and debate.

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