Today, we start with a simple proposition. How did the original Second Amendment;
“A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
Later edited by the Founders to the actual Constitutional text;
“A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
End up as this?
“The Second Amendment has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” – Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger (January 14, 1990)
The answer is fully illustrated on the wall in the front lobby of the NRA. You capitalize a “T” and cut the Amendment in half.
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The current interpretation of the Second Amendment was largely formed through manipulation of public opinion and not by scholarly investigation. For nearly 200 years, the Second Amendment was virtually ignored. There is very little case law or scholarly analysis available. The Second A was on its way to becoming as obsolete as the Third Amendment. You know, the one about not requisitioning and quartering troops in private homes? Thought so.
Historically, the meaning of the Second Amendment was never in serious question. The Founders did not want the Federal Government to have its own standing army. To protect their new nation, the Framers chose the model first introduced in England by Alfred the Great and already under use in Colonial times by Virginia. The militia. Militias are formed when citizens are “mustered” together into groups and then trained by the states to be part of their militia. In times of both domestic and foreign peril, the individual states could unite their individual militias into one national fighting force. No muss, no fuss and no need for a Federal standing army of professional soldiers that could be used to terrorize the states and their inhabitants. In those days, militias were BYOM as in Bring Your Own Musket as the militias did not supply weaponry. Toward this end each male between the ages of 16 and 60 was required by law to own a musket.
Notice how the words of the Second Amendment refers to the security of the “free state” and not individual rights to gun ownership. Historic context further informs us that “bear arms” was a term describing the right to go to war and not the individual right to own a gun. So how did we get into the mess we are in today?
The NRA was founded in 1871 by two veterans of the US Civil War to promote sport shooting with rifles and pistols. In the beginning, the body was involved with sponsoring exhibitions and competitive gun contests based on accuracy. By the 1970s the body was under “new management” and its mission changed, dramatically.
The NRA became a full-time, well-funded, political lobbying organization bent on spreading the gospel of gun ownership as a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. It wasn’t until 2008 when in the District of Columbia v. Heller opinion, written by right wing lunatic/activist judge Antonin Scalia, found the rights of individuals to own guns a fundamental feature of the Second Amendment. Scalia, a guy not above arguing the meanings of words like and, if, or and the placement commas as they relate to Constitutional interpretation, discards the entire first section of the Second Amendment as mere verbiage not central to the issue of gun ownership. Meaning, he adopts as his own the writing on the NRA’s wall of shame. Now, the shame is his. The pity is that we, the people, are stuck with the horror, carnage and continuing blight of an epidemic of gun violence spreading across the land.
That’s what happens when you cut an Amendment in half, Charlie Brown.