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Paradox25's avatar

What does the Second Amendment really mean?

Asked by Paradox25 (9981 points ) 2 months ago

This question pertains to originalism regarding the Second Amendment. The part I was wondering about was concerning the definition of a well regulated militia.

What is the definition of a well regulated militia in the context used here by the framers? The term militia can have several meanings, but I’m thinking this is the most vital aspect of determining what the original intent of the Second Amendment was.

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20 Answers

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Here it is:

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.

It started out basically as a rule of law which allowed US militia to be armed in case of attack by England (or anyone else).

Since its inception, it has been changed to allow that any US citizen has the right to keep and bear arms.

“The Supreme Court has now definitively held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that weapon for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Moreover, this right applies not just to the federal government, but to states and municipalities as well.”

And; “The Court reasoned that this right is fundamental to the nation’s scheme of ordered liberty, given that self-defense was a basic right recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present, and Heller held that individual self-defense was “the central component” of the Second Amendment right. Moreover, a survey of the contemporaneous history also demonstrated clearly that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Framers and ratifiers counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to the Nation’s system of ordered liberty.”

jerv's avatar

Given some of the vigilante groups out there, some of which their respective jurisdiction turn a blind eye to (some of those that “patrol” the Mexican border come to mind), I suspect that you’ll get widely varying answers here just as various courts have likewise varied on this very question. It really depends on who you ask.

Bill1939's avatar

My understanding is that a danger from a government becoming repressive will always exist. When so, the populace must revolt against it. Unless they have the means to defend against the power to repress them, they will be enslaved. While it seems that citizens will never have the resources that a government can have, the same gorilla tactics that freed America from England will free people from tyranny. However, as can be seen in the Middle East, a risk exists that militants will seek to overthrow a democracy or prevent it from forming so they can force their political agenda upon the populace.

filmfann's avatar

When the 2nd Amendment was written, the framers intent was to prevent the United States from having a standing army. The intention was to allow all men to be allowed to possess firearms in case they needed to be called on to defend the country with little notice.
The NRA has turned this around, and promoted an alternate meaning, that the populace should be armed in case they need to rescue their country from their government.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@Bill1939 “My understanding is that a danger from a government becoming repressive will always exist. When so, the populace must revolt against it.”

That’s the popular narrative, but the Founding Fathers’ own actions do not reflect this. Look up Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion to see what the Founding Fathers’ thought of armed revolt against the government.

majorrich's avatar

I’m with @filmfann on this one. This is also why lots of the early States’ constitution’s contained a provision for state militia’s. Over time ( at least in Ohio’s case) these sections came to closely resemble the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Paradox25's avatar

My own opinion on this is that conservatives have twisted this amendment to suit their agenda to a high degree. If one does a bit of research and reading, one can clearly see that the militias the framers had in mind were to be well regulated. The Continental Army at the time was not too fond of the militias, and appeared to want to have them under some type of government control. These militias at the time were made up of able bodied male non-soldiers who were subjected to training, rules and regulations, not merely random people owning weapons. The well regulated militias were to be the safeguard against a tyrannical government it appears to me when one looks at the Articles of the Confederation. These were detrimental in determining the meaning of each amendment in the Constitution.

Moreover, if I was a betting man (which I’m not) it also appears that when looking at all of this it did not appear that the framers had in mind random citizens owning high-powered assault rifles. Obviously during a rudimentary time period there were things even such enlightened people could not foresee, but it appeared for the most part they had common sense for their time when compared to others. I support gun rights regardless, but I support these within reason.

@Dan_Lyons That Supreme Court ruling was well after the fact, and it does not prove intention. Common sense tells me conservatives are wrong on this, and should be grateful they even have the right to own any firearm. The other areas of the Constitution that do appear to be obvious though, such as the First and Fourth Amendments, they seem to openly tread upon while twisting the meaning of the Second Amendment.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

1st of all, right in the Declaration of Independence our founding fathers state, ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

This is one of the reasons for the 2nd Amendment, for how can we overthrow a tyrannical government without arms?
This is also why @Bill1939 is completely correct in his assertion.

@Paradox25 The conservationists didn’t need to twist anything. The SCOTUS did all the twisting necessary, as I stated previously.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It isn’t necessary to try to determine what the founders “meant” by a well regulated militia. If the phrase had read instead: “The need for a defense against goblins being paramount…” it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. It is the conclusion drawn which matters, no matter how absurd the reasoning. The document states flat out that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Actually @stanleybmanly it does matter (or at least it did until the SCOTUS decided to interpret the 2nd Amendment as I stated above).

I have been studying this today:

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.

Originally, this meant that the US founding fathers did not want a standing army. They wanted a citizen army ready to come to the country’s defense at a moments notice.

So Yes, the right to bear arms shall not be infringed. Why? Because those armed guys were our county’s defense.

This is what I interpret the original words to mean @Paradox25

stanleybmanly's avatar

You’re right in stating that the SCOTUS tries to interpret the founders meaning. Now it might be reasoned that the National Guard constitutes a “well regulated militia”, but what makes the gun issue so tough is the fact that regardless of the reasoning behind it, it is the clear commandment that folks be permitted to tote combined with the failure to forbid “regulation” that keeps the issue forever hot.

jerv's avatar

What seems to be overlooked here is that the world is far different than it was over 200 years ago. What did the Founding Fathers saw about full-auto weapons, or the internet? Many things have happened that they did and could not foresee. And does what worked then really work now?

They made rules for a different world than we have now, which means many questions have to be asked,and many standing policies questioned.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

@stanleybmanly it is the clear commandment that folks be permitted to tote combined with the failure to forbid “regulation”...
And yet there is plenty of regulation, and more regulating as it appears needed.

@jerv The world is far different now then it was then. True. this is why we have courts to make changes appropriate to the changing world.
Which is what they did. (read the 1st answer to this thread).

“The Supreme Court has now definitively held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that weapon for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Moreover, this right applies not just to the federal government, but to states and municipalities as well.”

Darth_Algar's avatar

What the Founding Fathers (who have been basically deified in this country) might have meant matters little to our modern world. They were not so arrogant as to assume that what worked for their generation would work for all successive generations. This is why much of the Constitution is vague, open to interpretation. This is why we have the judicial branch to interpret the Constitution. This is why the means to change the Constitution are laid out in the Constitution itself.

Paradox25's avatar

The original intent, even if I am wrong here, is still a bogus excuse to justify the conservative stance on firearms though. Timothy McVeigh was fighting a tyrannical government in his eyes, and he was executed, with most people booing him. Would it had made a difference if he would had used a high-powered semi-automatic assault rifle, or a Glock 9mm? Would it had made a difference if he only bombed the ATF or FBI headquarters instead?

There are many people who believes that our government is tyrannical. Would I be justified blowing away DEA agents raiding my house because I was growing a dozen pot plants, and because I didn’t agree with government policy, even if it was technically unconstitutional? Who gets to decide who, when and where anybody who’s armed would be justified in taking arms against government officials or those enforcing those laws, whether they’re civilian or military?

Show me people, show me when it would be justifiable for me to take arms against my government. Who gets to decide this, when and where and what the Mendoza Line is, especially without some type of regulated or organized force? Random people taking up arms against government and its enforcers would be seen as criminals by most others anyways, including authority.

@stanleybmanly The National Guard does not constitute a well regulated militia, and it does not fit under any of the three basic definitions of it (militia). Also, nothing like the National Guard existed at the time that the Articles of the Confederacy or the Bill of Rights were written. The meaning of a well regulated militia is absolutely vital here in determining what the founders meant.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I still contend that it should be irrelevant what the founders meant by well regulated militia. It doesn’t matter WHY it is illegal to run a red light. What matters is that it is against the law. The well regulated militia stipulation may be a piece of reasoning justifying the law, but it is absolutely unnecessary in giving the amendment validity. Had the “excuse” been omitted altogether, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” would stand comfortably on its own.

jerv's avatar

@Dan_Lyons I thought that changing law was the job of the Legislative branch, and that the Judicial branch merely interpreted the laws that were written. And while taking the current state of the world into account is generally wise, it does blur the line between the two branches a bit at times. What is Legislature’s definition of “well regulated militia” anyways?

Dan_Lyons's avatar

@stanleybmanly And so it does stand comfortably on its own today.

@jerv Making (enacting) new laws (legislation) is indeed the job of the Legislative branch.

The Judicial branch, while merely interpreting the laws also through the very act of interpretation, actually changes laws.

I’m surprised you don’t know this.

We no longer have any “well regulated militia” which is, as I have already stated, a citizen army vs. an actual standing army.

I can define these two terms for you if need further clarification, but it seems fairly self-explanatory to me.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Wow. I’ve just seen Mario Mendoza’s lack of hitting skills evoked in a thread about the 2nd Amendment. My week is strangely complete.

jerv's avatar

@Dan_Lyons The argument could be made that interpretation can edit laws into something other than what Legislature intended; sometimes to the extent of effectively becoming a new law. But my argument is merely that the fact that such a thing is even possible blurs the line a little.

The fact that we even have lawyers and judges is proof that “self-evident” really is subjective.

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