Explaining the Second Amendment

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

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 story goes that the ‘Founding Fathers’ wrote this amendment to be placed in the ‘Bill of Rights’ as to ensure that the free people of the United States may take up arms against foreign invasion or against their own government, if the need so arises. If read properly, the amendment states that ‘A well regulated Militia’ and ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms’ are both not to be infringed. Many gun-control advocates point to the wording of this amendment and say: ‘HA! See? Even in your precious second amendment, it says well regulated!’ Quite frankly, this is either intellectual dishonesty or intellectual laziness.

The fact of the matter is that the wording of this amendment is very specific and was done so intentionally. The verb ‘well regulated’ modifies ‘Militia’, but does not modify ‘right of the people to keep and bear Arms’, or more specifically, ‘Arms.’ The phrase attached to the end of amendment then necessarily modifies both the first and second parts of the sentence, saying that neither the existence of a well regulated Militia or the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall be infringed.

In the context of the rest of the Constitution, the existence of a well regulated militia pertains to the existence of militias that exist in peace time put forward by the states within the Union. The framers wished for militias to be well regulated as to ensure that they may be called upon during war time/invasion. Standing armies were never meant to exist, and technically, standing armies during peace time are not permitted under the Constitution. As shown in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution:

The congress shall have the power to […]

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress[]”

Here, one can see how the framers worded the power of the Congress to raise an army and limits Congress to appropriating money to the army for no longer than two years. Navies, however, are to be maintained by the Congress; this is the only military branch that is expressly allowed to be operating during peace time.

What is the most important part of Section 8 is the wording of Congress’ power over the Militia, in which the Congress may call forth the Militia to ‘suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions’ as well as organizing and training the Militia. The Militia that is being repeatedly referred to are the states’ militias, in which the power to appoint officers and training of the militias shall be reserved to the states respectively (as to be outlined by the Congress, again refer to Section 8 of Article 1).

Ah! We have finally reached our point. Kind of tricky, huh? The well regulated Militia being referred to in the Second Amendment (which is preceded by Article 1, Section 8) is, in fact, the collective Militia of the States. The Framers originally establish the existence of, and the regulations that coincide with, the Militias raised by the States which, in times of need, may be called upon by Congress to suppress insurrections and repel invasions. In writing the Second Amendment, the framers merely reiterate the fact that this collective Militia (the militias raised by the respective states of the Union) shall be well regulated per the guidelines referred to in Section 8. In the Second Amendment, the Framers make it clear that the existence of such a Militia shall not be infringed.

This whole issue about regulations and militias (which, admittedly, took quite some time to sort out) is separate from the right of the people to keep and bear arms. I would like to emphasize the dichotomy of the two. The well regulated Militia, AND the right of the people to keep and bear arms, are respectively modified by the phrase ‘shall not be infringed.’ Therefore, the modifier ‘well regulated’, which directly modifies its subject (Militia), does NOT apply to the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, as per the second amendment, the right to keep and bear Arms as well as the right to join a well regulated Militia shall not be infringed. 

One thought on “Explaining the Second Amendment

  1. Great post! I’ve heard some say that the first part is the reason and the second part is the right.

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