The Revered Texts
In the annals of world history, there are only a handful of historical documents that are known, revered, and debated over across the whole earth. Some of these include the Magna Carta, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Rosetta Stone, just to name a few. Perhaps the most dynamic and applicable of all these texts is the Constitution of the United States.
Not only is this grand series of laws and amendments the blueprint for many other democratic republics across the globe, but the US Constitution is the oldest of its kind as well. Truly, America, along with the rest of the world, has been the beneficiary of the most important framework for legislation ever penned. Indeed, we must ignore or change it at our peril.
With all the good that the Constitution has inspired in countries around the world, there is one feature that it has that has proved difficult to copy, and therefore stands as its crowning achievement: the Bill of Rights.
No Greater Thing
As students of American history will agree, there would be no USA without the Bill of Rights. These 10 critical amendments weren’t explicitly stated in the original Constitution and needed to be ratified in order to bring other American territories to the table when it came to supporting the creation of the country. With the Bill of Rights secured, the work of nation-building could be brought about by unanimous effort.
Over time, each of the 10 amendments has been ridiculed and defended, abused and made sacrosanct; rights like the freedom of speech and of the press, the freedom against unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to a fair and speedy trial, have each been the subject of political classes and online think tanks. Perhaps no amendment has undergone such scrutiny, however, as the Second Amendment.
The Letter of the Law
The Second Amendment states:
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.
Over the centuries, Americans have debated what it is exactly that this amendment is protecting. One could make the argument that according to the English language, this is actually protecting three things:
- A well-regulated militia
- The security of a free state
- The right of the people to keep and bear arms
All of these things, connected and separate, shall not be infringed upon by any machinations within or without the government.
A Brief History
But how did the second amendment as we know it come to be? Regardless of how we interpret the exact meaning of the wording in our day today, much of the history of the amendment centers on the opening clause, the “well-regulated militia.”
Up until they were writing their own constitution, the Founding Fathers had mainly lived under the example of the British and French governments. In Britain, for example, the British Bill of Rights describes the right of their Protestant subjects to “have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” Despite sounding completely individualistic, this actually refers to Parliament’s right to protect itself from the actions of an unjust monarchy by employing a militia populated by subjects to the crown.
Many historians postulate that the Second Amendment as we know it was fashioned after this British blueprint and was meant only to protect the keeping of arms for use within state-run militias. That being said, however, it’s clear that the people of the United States have adopted another meaning that is equally as efficacious, and that is the right to defend oneself with personal firearms and shooting accessories.
Truly, there is no more American notion in all the world than the ability to interpret one’s constitution a particular way and have that interpretation upheld by the Supreme Court.