Original Intent of the Second Amendment

It is very clear to me that the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was not a provision for the individual citizen to own and carry arms. Rather, it was obviously a collective right to defend the nation’s independence and to preserve the constitution. Following on the heels of the American Revolution, a major concern for the members of this young country was to make sure that other nations would not try to take over and to guard against our own government from becoming tyrannous. Consequently, states were given the ability to have armed citizens who would together serve to protect the state and the nation from attempted coups and sedition.

The interpretation of the Second Amendment as a permission for citizens to own guns for their individual pleasure, for sport, for intimidation and threat, and for the protection of personal property is a blatant misconstrual of its meaning and purpose. The beginning of the amendment is clearly a statement of intent, and not simply an example picked willy-nilly by James Madison or Thomas Jefferson. The express direction is in defense of the democratic republic and not for citizens to stockpile arsenals of any and every kind for whatever tacit reason.

Today, the right to bear arms is mostly defended as an individual right with no regulation or infringement by government. That perspective reveals a distorted version of history and does not reflect the collective nature of the statement. After all, why would there be any discussion of a militia, if the purpose were to affirm and ensure a recreational and/or vindictive individual activity? The reason why militia is in the statement is simply because it is referring as a whole to the collective defense of the rights and liberties of the new republic.

There are a number of reasons why there is a twenty-first-century debate in this country over the Second Amendment. They all boil down to the politicization of the violence in our society. Despite the fact that violence has declined over the past decade in the nation as a whole, violent incidents in certain communities have increased and mass killings have become more frequent and devastating. The proliferation of gun sales and the increase in accidents demonstrate the emphasis on individual rights, on the one hand, and the stupidity of gun possession, on the other hand. The lobbying efforts of the well-financed National Rifle Association, the acquiescence of elected officials to the NRA, and the feckless decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 have conspired to promote the amendment as a statement anchoring individual and state’s rights rather than as its original purpose of collective protection of the United States. These misdirected forays in the midst of violence and terror alerts nevertheless fly in the face of the will of the masses of people who express a desire for further gun regulation.

These rigid supports for the faulty interpretation of the amendment forced Pres. Obama to go around them to respond to the majority of the people. Certainly, his executive orders will not end violence, especially while a surfeit of guns are out there and many who have them like to take the law into their own hands or to go on the offensive with them for a multiplicity of excuses. Regardless, a variety of actions need to occur to tackle the proliferation of gun possession and the continuation of gun violence in our society. Obama’s executive order is just the beginning of a renewed effort to tackle this intransigent, multifaceted issue. True to form, opponents of these endeavors are criticizing the president’s and similar others’ actions for selfish, individualistic reasons rather than for the defense and preservation of our democratic republic, i.e., the collective. For this reason, it is understandable why the Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, would slip up and call his state “practically a nation-state” during a recent interview with a BBC newsperson on National Public Radio. Clearly, his concern was not for the whole.

Let’s reread the Second Amendment, sharpen up on our understanding of the English language, and grab a few historical references to investigate the shaping of the Bill of Rights. I am confident that an honest and sincere look will seriously call into question the individualistic interpretation and a newfound appreciation for the collective-right view!

About mdbwell

Pres., Project for the Beloved Community, Inc.; B.A.--Wesleyan University; M.Div.--Yale University; Ph.D.--Boston University; Summer Study--Harvard University; Social ethicist; Ordained minister; Advocate for the poor
This entry was posted in Social Ethics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.