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. 


I keep a loaded handgun on my nightstand.  I own other firearms, including a semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle, a Russian surplus bolt-action rifle, and a muzzleloader.  I’m a proud gun owner.  But my thoughts on Adam Kokesh’s “Armed March” into Washington, D.C. are those of disdain and embarrassment at being associated with certain people because the population tends to generalize a group like gun owners solely based on the most vocal proponents of the Second Amendment.

Kokesh’s march is not only politically stupid, but also illegal.  While I am a libertarian who appreciates civil disobedience, two groups of armed people, the marchers and the D.C. police forces converging, can lead to a confrontation that could lead to shots being fired and many being killed for one man’s self-aggrandizement.  An event like this would have further implications; the people who tend to have less sense about them may view this as a watershed moment to take actions themselves against law enforcement in their areas-  events which would have the potential to boil into civil war.  At the very least, the politicians who work there and the media would paint a picture of gun owners as unstable and non-law abiding citizens and provide an impetus to push through legislation that would be much more deleterious to our rights than the recent legislation that was defeated.

In the recent days, I have heard Kokesh’s march referred to as similar in nature to the acts of civil disobedience and the demonstrations orchestrated by the Civil Rights movement in the 50s and 60s. Rosa Parks merely refused to leave her seat; she didn’t have a loaded gun or seek to initiate conflict. Her point was made through peaceful non-compliance. Had the marchers in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 carried loaded guns, there would have been much more than fire hoses turned upon them.

I admit that we do not truly have Second Amendment rights, as the Founders intended, today.  However, I will not go so far as to suggest that there is any reason whatsoever to hold such a controversial event. On the official event page for the event, there is talk of how this event could be a “Second American Revolution” and things such as that. Kokesh sees himself as a latter-day general or Founder, yet I don’t think he can even fathom how bad things had gotten in 1775 when the Revolution began militarily in earnest. While the tax rate is high, regulatory agencies are out of control, and our money, which many of us work to save, is being devalued, are there not political or economic solutions to these problems?  I do not see troops being quartered in my home. I do not see the government aiding the indigenous population with weapons and money to destroy my community. I do not see armies walking amongst the general population in a role reserved for civil administration.

Seeking to fight the U.S. government through a confrontation, as some attendees would like to see happen, is not going to go over well.  I see the comparisons to how insurgencies have defeated much greater forces and armies, especially in light of the American Revolution.  To start with, it was a more level playing field at that point in history.  While the Americans lacked a formal navy, they had manpower that often wielded a weapon superior to those the British carried in the Kentucky Rifle: the forerunner to today’s sniper rifles.  What they lacked in leadership and strategic thinking, they made up for with the use of attrition and light-infantry tactics, especially in the south where Colonel Francis Marion harassed Cornwallis’s troops and bought time for Greene and Morgan to fight significant set-piece battles that eventually led to the decisive victory at Yorktown.

The concept that a conflict between American citizens armed merely with rifles and whatever improvised devices they could conceive and the American military and law enforcement agencies armed with a modern navy, air force, armored divisions, and artillery would be easy is an idealized fantasy.  It would last for many years with great casualties on both sides and many civilians would needlessly die.

If Kokesh or his followers want a war, they picked the wrong century to wage it in. As for me, let it not be said that I did nothing to warn against such a precipitous action. For the sake of other reasonable gun owners and the liberty movement as a whole, I hope this event does not take place. I value human life, regardless of whether it’s the life of a demonstrator, a member of the law enforcement community, or a tourist who had nothing to do with the demonstration that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.