I have often said that ignorance of our founding documents is the excuse of no politician, just as ignorance of the law is the excuse of no citizen. In turn, I must suggest that citizens bear a greater responsibility to know and understand the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and especially the Bill of Rights, because we are the guardians thereof, even over and above elected officials, legislators, and judges. It is our knowledge of the Supreme Law of the Land that enables us to govern our government (as the founders intended), and to know when they are encroaching on our precious liberties.
Sadly, many Americans do not understand the rights they possess simply because they’ve never taken the time to study the Bill of Rights; or, because they’ve heard a less-than-factual explanation of them from the mouths and pens of other ignorant people. Ignorance, contrary to the popular saying, is not bliss, it is frightfully dangerous when it comes to the Constitution and the free exercise of the rights enumerated and protected therein.
With that in mind, we are going to take a deep dive into the 2nd Amendment (my personal favorite), and we’ll be dissecting and discussing the right expressed therein to gain a comprehensive understanding thereof. And though the title may suggest otherwise, I really don’t presume that anyone reading this is a dummy; carry on.
What the 2nd Amendment isn’t: It is not the grantor or guarantor of the right to keep and bear arms; that right comes from God alone. Though the right is specifically and prominently mentioned, the expression of the right is not the sole purpose of the Amendment.
It is not a suggestion; it is an imperative.
It is not a foundation upon which to attach other laws (contrary to Shannon Watts of the “Moms Demand Action” pro-infringement political action group)..
It is not a declaration that is dependent upon circumstances, nor was it intended to be changeable by the government should they decide they don’t like it.
It is not violable; no one, specifically the government, has the right to violate the right, directives and/or implications found within the text.
It is not subject to provisos, because it isn’t an agreement or contract; it is a LAW.
What it is: It is part of the Supreme Law of the Land, found in the Bill of Rights, specifically within the portion thereof that directly prohibits the government from infringing (violating, breaking, hindering, delaying) the free exercise of a pre-existing right that was given by God to all men; namely the right to defend one’s self against all unjust or criminal aggression by any and all threats, even against their own government, if necessary. It also directly notes the use of any and all arms of war necessary to accomplish said defense.
This amendment was carefully crafted prior to penning it in its final form, and with careful perusal, its meaning and intent are as clear as a blue Georgia sky. So let’s break it down:
“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”.
Many wild and fanciful interpretations of the text of this amendment (and others) have been proffered by as many persons, from politicians to fellow citizens, who seem intent on ‘proving’ that the founders “never intended” for the average citizen to keep and bear arms, much less arms for war. The founders themselves addressed such erroneous suppositions, as is evidenced in the following quote by Thomas Jefferson:
“On every occasion [of Constitutional interpretation] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying [to force] what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, [instead let us] conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, 12 June 1823
With that in mind, let us proceed, and as we go, we’ll consult the founders statements (all emphasis mine).
Who are the “well-regulated militia”? The answer is in the text of the Amendment (the people), but let’s reference a few pertinent quotes in order to establish it firmly:
“I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.”
– George Mason, Address to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 4, 1788
“A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include, according to the past and general usage of the states, all men capable of bearing arms”.
– Richard Henry Lee, Federal Farmer No. 18, January 25, 1788
“The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to to John Cartwright, 5 June 1824
What was their intent when penning this amendment? Again, the answer is found in the text; they wished to keep the nation in a constant state of freedom, and the keeping and bearing of arms by the people was deemed a necessity in maintaining such a state.
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.”
– James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789
To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the peoplealways possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”
– Richard Henry Lee, Federal Farmer No. 18, January 25, 1788
What type of arms is the text referring to? Let’s answer the question with another seemingly disconnected question: Does the phrase “the people” mentioned in the Bill of Rights mean any and all American people? Yes. Does it mean “the people” living in those historical days? Yes. Does it mean “the people” who were yet to be born, and/or “the people” who would be alive at any time throughout the entirety of America’s then-present and future existence? Yes, of course it does, and it would be silly to think otherwise. Then how could anyone reasonably suppose that the word “arms” only applied to the arms of that time period, and not also the arms in use at any time throughout the entirety of America’s then-present and future existence?
Some of the most laughable assumptions regarding this have come from those who see the government as the grantor and dispenser of our rights, and/or presume to know what the founders really intended, basing their assertions on wild, fact-less suppositions of what those men of old knew or didn’t know, or what they could not possibly have foreseen as far as advancements in technology and lethality. The allegation that “arms” only referred to muzzle-loading, single-shot long guns and hand guns, and that anything more deadly that that was somehow frowned upon, is ludicrous.
There were, in fact, several guns on the market at the time of the writing of this amendment that defy such claims. One was the Girandoni Air Rifle, which was invented in 1779 (twelve years prior to the adoption of the Bill of Rights/2nd Amendment), and was a repeating arm that held (WARNING TO PRO-INFRINGEMENT PEOPLE! The rest of this sentence may cause apoplexia and migraines!) up to THIRTY ROUNDS in an round vertical hopper (Gasp! A high-capacity drum magazine!!), was powered by compressed air supplied from a reservoir in the butt via intricate valves, fired a .46 or .51 caliber bullet at 500 feet-per-second, and was actually carried by none other than Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition. The Native Americans who found themselves on the receiving end of the Girandoni were terrified of it, because it gave off no smoke signature and no tell-tale boom usually associated with black powder firearms, and could send multiple rounds in their direction rapidly.
Girandoni Air Rifle (Courtesy Google Images)
Another multi-shot firearm that appeared long before the Bill of Rights was scripted was the Puckle Gun. Patented in 1718 (seventy-three years prior to the 2nd Amendment!), a single-barreled flintlock weapon fitted with a revolving cylinder capable of holding anywhere from six to eleven shots. It fired square bullets (yes, square bullets, because they reckoned such would cause more damage), and was used primarily as a deck gun on ships.
Puckle Gun (Courtesy Google Images)
One last example (though there are others that could also be considered) of 17th Century technology is the Kalthoff Repeating Rifle, capable of holding from 7 to 30 shots (depending on model), which was invented in the early 1600’s, and reportedly used in warfare during the Siege of Copenhagen (1659)and the Scanian War (1675-1679) between Denmark and Sweden. That’s 132 and 116 years, respectively, before the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791!
Kalthoff Repeating Rifle (Courtesy Google Images)
Thus the spurious claim that the founders couldn’t possibly have foreseen high-capacity, multi-shot-capable firearms is implausible, due to the fact that they well aware that such technology was already in existence!
The simplest answer as to what types of arms the founders envisioned the people keeping and bearing, however, comes directly from the pages of Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language:
‘ARMS, noun plural [Latin arma.]
1. Weapons of offense, or armor for defense and protection of the body.
2. War; hostility.
To be in arms is to be in a state of hostility, or in a military life.
“To arms” is a phrase which denotes a taking arms for war or hostility; particularly, a summoning to war.
To take arms is to arm for attack or defense.
Bred to arms denotes that a person has been educated to the profession of a soldier.
Yes, arms for WAR, was their definitive intention for the lawful, responsible American citizenry. And why would they want the citizenry to be as well-armed as the government/military/police with arms for war? Again, for the security of a free state, as can be ascertained in the following quotes:
“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787
“Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.”
– James Madison, Federalist No. 46, January 29, 1788
“The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium
(“something that affords effectual defense, protection and safety”, Noah Webster) of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”
– Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833
“What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty …. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”
– Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, I Annals of Congress 750, August 17, 1789
“[I]f circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.”
– Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 28, January 10, 1788
“As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”
– Tench Coxe, Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789
What is infringement? Again, let’s ask Mr. Webster:
INFRINGE, verb transitive infrinj’. [Latin infringo; in and frango, to break.]
1. To break, as contracts; to violate, either positively by contravention, or negatively by non-fulfillment or neglect of performance. A prince or a private person infringes an agreement or covenant by neglecting to perform its conditions, as well as by doing what is stipulated not to be done.
2. To break; to violate; to transgress; to neglect to fulfill or obey; as, to infringe a law.
3. To destroy or hinder; as, to infringe efficacy.
In light of this definition, are we able to allege the charge of infringement against the federal government today? Does the federal government and many state governments break, violate, transgress, neglect, or hinder the free exercise of the right to keep and bear arms? The emphatic answer is a resounding “ABSOLUTELY!!!”
From the Gun Control Act of 1934 to the 20,000+ gun control laws on the books across the nation in various states today, each and every last one of them is an act of infringement, something they were expressly FORBIDDEN to do according to the 2nd Amendment in our Supreme Law of the Land!!
When we’re told through force of law and consequences that we’re not allowed to own the same arms the government owns, that’s infringement.
When we’re told through force of law and consequences that we cannot own fully-automatic weapons just as freely as we own revolvers and single-shot rifles, that’s infringement.
When we’re told through force of law and consequences that the barrels of our rifles must exceed 16 inches, and the barrels of our shotguns must exceed 18 inches, that infringement.
When we’re forced to lease our right to keep and/or bear arms from the government in the form of a permit, fee, or license, that’s infringement.
When we’re told through force of law and consequences that we cannot carry a concealed firearm without first gaining permission from and paying a fee to the state, that’s infringement.
When we’re told through force of law and consequences that we cannot carry firearms openly on our person, that’s infringement.
In short, any law that forbids in any way the keeping and bearing of military arms by the lawful, responsible citizens of the United States is infringement, and a direct violation of the 2nd Amendment.
You may ask “Aw c’mon, Royce, why would we ever need to own machine guns, mortars, RPG’s AT-4 rockets, tanks and other such weapons?” To which I will answer “In case our government ever becomes despotic and decides they have the right to use such weapons against us”. Now, before you presume that such a thing could never happen here, it already has; the federal government has used military force against civilians on multiple occasions: Wounded Knee, Waco, Ruby Ridge, not to mention in 1932 when President Hoover used troops and tanks against thousands of WWI veterans who had gathered in Washington DC to demand the bonuses they were promised, but never received (didn’t know about that? Google it!).
Or, maybe you missed the videos coming out of Venezuela that showed government troops in armored personnel carriers running unarmed citizens over in the streets, and shooting them down indiscriminately. And you think that can’t happen here? I tell you with absolute conviction that our government would do the exact same thing without hesitation if they thought they could get away with it.
Our well-studied, forward-thinking founders knew exactly what the biggest threat(s) to our liberty would be, and always has been, and it isn’t foreign invaders; it is a tyrannical government that begins to do what so many other governments have done throughout history, and that’s violate, break, transgress, and hinder the free exercise of the God-given rights of the people, especially the right to keep and bear arms.
In closing, let me remind you, dear reader, that it is not only your right, but your duty to keep and bear arms, and to be well-regulated in their use. You, as an American citizen, are one of the many millions who stand as a bulwark against tyranny, and ensure that this nation remains in a free state.
God bless America.