Is the ‘Right to Bear Arms’ Outdated?

The second amendment applies to more than just muskets…

The Boston Massacre

By: Hayden Cunningham

The right to bear arms is unique to the United States. No other country believes that owning a firearm is a natural right given to all citizens. This believe has its benefits but also comes with its costs. In modern America, many have ceased to view the second amendment as an inalienable right. To fix this, it is important to understand the history of the second amendment. By doing so, Americans can learn the value of gun ownership and why the second amendment still applies 245 years after it was written.

The Concept of Natural Rights

The Bill of Rights is a list of rights every human-being is entitled to. These rights are not given to us by the government. The concept of these amendments is that they are rights that transcend government; government does not give us these rights, they simply recognize them.

The second amendment stems from the belief that every person has a natural, God-given right of self-preservation. You have the right to defend yourself, your family, and your property. At the time of the Revolution guns were the way people in society defended themselves. To this day, that sentiment remains.

Because this is the foundation of our country, government cannot deny us of any of the rights in the Constitution. To deny us the right to owning a gun would be a violation of natural rights. Therein lies another reason the founders wanted civilians armed: to have the ability to rebel against a tyrannical government violating those rights.

There is a reason that the right to own a gun was the second amendment written down. The first amendment gives us the freedom of speech. If that were to be attacked, the second amendment provides a way for us to protect speech. The second amendment is the right that allows us to protect all other rights. Therefore, any law that is in opposition to this amendment would already be illegal.

Execution of the Second Amendment

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

There are many misinterpretations of the second amendment. The first half of the sentence has become very ambiguous, and has led to a misunderstanding of the intentions of the founding fathers.

The second amendment states that it is “the people” who can keep and bear arms. The myth, however, is that the second amendment is only allowing firearm ownership to members of a “well regulated militia.” The idea was that there was an “individual and corporate” right to self-defense. The phrase “well-regulated” during the time period meant properly-equipped, or functioning.

The term “militia” does not mean the military or the police. Militia meant a group of civilians. Men between the ages of 18 to 50 were part of the militia. The argument that “militia” means that firearms only applied to members of the military is amusing; why would a country have to specifically write a law giving the militray permission to use guns?

“I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few public officials.”

George Mason (Writer of the Virginia Declaration of Rights)

Another myth is that the second amendment was added into The Bill of Rights for slave patrols to round up fleeing slaves and force them into submission. This is historically inaccurate. There is no evidence that this was the motivation of the framers. In fact, George Washington’s slaves had guns and actively carried firearms. This was not uncommon on large plantations at the time.

The second amendment embodied the idea that civilians were entitled to the same weapons of the military. Muskets used by the military were also being given to civilians for private use. Even cannons were treated this way. When James Madison was President, he received a letter from a business owner requesting permission to place cannons on his ships to defend against pirates. Madison approved this request, citing the second amendment.

There were also weapons at the time that we would consider “high capacity.” While most firearms were muskets that took a long time to reload by today’s standards, there were already well-known weapons that could shot at a significant rate. The pepperbox revolver, for example, had models that could shoot up to 24 rounds. These weapons weren’t condemned by the founders, they were applauded. Our leaders after the Revolution had essentially no restrictions on firearm ownership.

It was also not uncommon for women to carry firearms throughout the early history of our country. Annie Oakley, for example, was a female sharpshooter who was widely known for her accuracy.

I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies

Annie Oakley (1860-1926)

Guns were so normalized in American society that even children would carry guns. Kids were shooting .22 caliber guns at carnivals and in school as well. The idea was that the more trained a child was, the less likely they or others would be a victim of an accident involving a gun. Gun education was being taught in American schools as late as the 1970’s.

The idea of a “gun-free zone” in early America was not as widely discussed as it is now. In the state of Georgia, citizens were required to bring guns to church. Some cities early on tried to pass no-carry zones, but were denied legality from the courts.

In sum, guns were intended for everyone American citizen. Guns were believed to be natural, God-given rights, and that right should not be infringed by the government.

Firearm Restrictions

In the years following the Revolution, citizens were allowed to own cannons under the second amendment. So how did the second amendment continue to be interpreted in the 20th and 21st century? As time when on, many restrictions have been put in place for Americans.

By the 1930’s, the National Firearms Act (NFA) went into effect in response to the gang violence of prohibition. The NFA placed groundbreaking restrictions on firearms. The following weapons were now regulated: full-auto firearms (machine guns), Short-barrel rifles (SBR’s, a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches), Short-barrel shotguns (SBS’s, a shotgun with a barrel short than than 18 inches), and suppressors (also known as a silencer).

Today, it takes extensive effort to obtain any of these weapons regulated by the NFA. short-barreled weapons are subject to a tax stamp of $200 per gun. The individual will have to file paperwork for the weapon, endure very long wait times, and have the weapon registered with the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). To own a fully-auto firearm, the process is extremely extensive and the weapon itself is very expensive. For these reasons, they are practically unattainable for most Americans.

In 2008, the Supreme Court heard the case District of Columbia v. Heller that questioned the historical interpretation of the second amendment and if individuals have the right to own firearms. The case challenged a gun law in the District of Columbia that banned individual gun ownership. D.C. argued that the second amendment gave people a “collective right” and not an “individual right” to own guns. They instituted a gun law that banned guns for self-defense use and required all guns in homes to be stored unloaded and locked.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional. Had one vote gone the other way, and we may not have individual gun ownership in this country right now. In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia stated that the second amendment applied to the individual, and guns were permitted to be used in the home for self-defense. Among those dissenting were justice Stevens, Souter, Breyer, and Ginsburg. Justice Sevens stated in his dissenting argument that he believes the second amendment does not apply to private ownership of a firearm. Stevens believed the right to bear arms had a military meaning, not a meaning for private citizens.

Guns were normalized for most of American history. it’s one of the reason our country is the freest in the world. There are hopeless civilians in war-torn countries that wish they had a firearm to defend themselves. It’s a right our country was founded on.

When guns were first distributed in our country, there was not nearly as much violence with guns as we have today. We don’t have a gun problem, we have a culture problem. When everyone had the same set of moral and religious values, it was easier for everyone to have a weapon. In modern America, morals have been abandoned and debated. We have a harder time as a society all pointing at a set of values and agreeing they should be followed. Today you can turn on the radio and hear a rap song about abusing women, being in a gang, and committed violence. Then people say that the gun itself is the problem and not the mindset of the people holding it? This isn’t a problem that can be solved by “gun control,” and most proposed gun control is already unconstitutional.

The second amendment states that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed, and D.C. v. Heller ended with The Supreme Court determining that this right applied to the individual. There is no legal doubt that the second amendment does not apply to Americans in modern day. Just like the first amendment still applying during the age of the internet, the second amendment still applies to an AR-15. Either we live in a free society or we don’t. If you think the amendment is outdated, then you have to argue that the entire Constitution is outdated. This may be a more popular argument in the future, so I will ask you this? If we give up the idea that our country is founded on natural laws that transcend government and apply to every person, then what do we found our country on? What other moral consensus will we possibly be able to have?

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