Understanding the Second Amendment Without Misleading Liberal Bias

There are leftist theories being debated today about American individuals’ “right” to gun ownership. Notice this leftist from Young Turks that selected to show only half of the amendment to mislead into his leftist ideology.

Of course Cenk choose to leave out the second part the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” 

Chris Cuomo (AKA: FREDO) of CNN recently tweeted that “there was no individual right” in the Second Amendment even “contemplated” until Antonin Scalia inferred the “individual right” in the Heller v. District of Columbia decision.

Cuomo and Uygur can mislead and suggest that the Second Amendment was never understood by Americans to protect an individual right to gun ownership?  History and logic could not be clearer in proving him either a fool or a liar, as Americans have always had guns.  The old west movies are based on some reality and everyone that wanted too,  had a gun.

It should not be difficult for anyone with a passing grasp of the English language to understand that it is the “right of the People” that is protected in that sentence, and it is clearly not the expression of a peculiar power owned by the newly-founded centralized government created by our Constitution. Cenk’s first language may be Turkish so we can give him a pass here.

Such straightforward, simple language in our Bill of Rights was actually suggested by Samuel Adams and John Hancock to accommodate the antifederalists at the Massachusetts Convention of 1788 and to avoid confusion about the new government’s limited powers, meant to guarantee that “the Constitution shall never be construed… to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”

What “They” Said….

  • James Madison: “The ultimate authority … resides in the people alone. … The advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition.” Federalist 46
  • James Madison: “A well regulated militia, composed of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.” 1st Annals of Congress, at 434, June 8th 1789
  • Rep. Tenche Coxe of Pennsylvania: “ The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American … the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” – Tenche Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
  • Patrick Henry: “Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?” 3 Elliot Debates 168-169.
  • Patrick Henry: “The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.” 3 Elliot, Debates at 386.
  • Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: “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.” (spoken during floor debate over the Second Amendment, I Annals of Congress at 750, August 17, 1789)
  • Thomas Jefferson: “And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms… The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”, letter to William S. Smith, 1787, in S. Padover (Ed.), Jefferson, On Democracy
  • Thomas Jefferson: “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”, Proposal for a Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334 (C.J. Boyd, Ed. 1950)
  • George Mason: “I ask you sir, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people.” (Elliott, Debates, 425-426)
  • Richard Henry Lee: “To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them…” Richard Henry (LIGHT HORSE HARRY) Lee, writing in Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic (1787-1788)
  • Thomas Paine: “The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside… Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them…” I Writings of Thomas Paine at 56 (1894)
  • Justice Joseph Story: “The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace both from the enormous expenses with which they are attended and the facile means which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers to subvert the government or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium 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 the first instance enable the people to resist and triumph over them…” Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. 3 vols. Boston, 1833.
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When Madison proposed the Second Amendment, he submitted the text of the Massachusetts proposal, unchanged…

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.” [Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Charles Hale, (1856), p. 86]

As you can see, the intent of this proposal was, clearly, to guarantee the rights of citizens to own and carry arms. They recognized this as essential because, a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country. This was recognizing the role of militias in liberating Massachusetts from the British.

Understand, it was not “The Kings Militia” who rebelled against King George, it was the armed citizens of the colonies who formed ad hoc militias (such as The Sons of Liberty) to oppose what they perceived as tyrannical government, facing the troops of the King.

 The early militias were not controlled by the Colonial Government in any way. Originally, many were formed in communities throughout the colonies, especially in New England, primarily for community protection and policing (analogous to today’s Neighborhood Watch), who joined with militias like The Sons of Liberty. Even after the Continental Army was formed, the militias were not “controlled” by the Army, but often coordinated with it. The Founders were guaranteeing, not just the right to own and carry firearms, but the right of the people to form militias.

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Well Regulated?

The phrase “well-regulated” was in common use long before 1789, and remained so for a century thereafter. It referred to the property of something being in proper working order. Something that was well-regulated was calibrated correctly, functioning as expected. Establishing government oversight of the people’s arms was not only not the intent in using the phrase in the 2nd amendment, it was precisely to render the government powerless to do so that the founders wrote it.[1]

So, if something is “well regulated”, it is “regular” (a well regulated clock; regular as clockwork).

In the 18th century, a “regular” army meant an army that had standard military equipment. So a “well regulated” army was simply one that was “well equipped” and organized. It does not refer to a professional army. The 17th century folks used the term “standing army” or “regulars” to describe a professional army. Therefore, “a well regulated militia” only means a well equipped militia that was organized and maintained internal discipline. It does not imply the modern meaning of “regulated,” which means controlled or administered by some superior entity. [2](emphasis added)

The following are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, and bracket in time the writing of the 2nd amendment:

1709: “If a liberal Education has formed in us well-regulated Appetites and worthy Inclinations.”

1714: “The practice of all well-regulated courts of justice in the world.”

1812: “The equation of time … is the adjustment of the difference of time as shown by a well-regulated clock and a true sun dial.”

1848: “A remissness for which I am sure every well-regulated person will blame the Mayor.”

1862: “It appeared to her well-regulated mind, like a clandestine proceeding.”

1894: “The newspaper, a never wanting adjunct to every well-regulatedAmerican embryo city.”

Finally, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, from The Federalist Papers, #29,

The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious if it were capable of being carried into execution. A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, nor a week nor even a month, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry and of the other classes of the citizens to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people and a serious public inconvenience and loss.

From this quote we can deduce two things:

  1. If the Founders meant for government to control the militia, they would have used the verb “to discipline”, as in “a well disciplined militia” (an objective Hamilton described as “futile” and “injurious”)
  2. As Hamilton observes, well regulated meant the people were responsible for training themselves to arms, as well as supplying and equipping themselves. Though Hamilton thought this onerous, by demanding the Second Amendment, the States devolved this responsibility to the People.
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Arms – weapons considered collectively

There is a lot of misunderstanding of this term, even among the gun community. If you just read the 2nd Amendment by itself, it is easily (and often) misinterpreted. If you study the the supporting documents and the ratification debates, it becomes much clearer. Nonetheless, the keys are in the text of the amendment itself. A couple of definitions first to promote understanding….

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, is a justification clause, and defines a limit on what type of arms. It does not say, “Because the People need to hunt for food, and slaughter live stock” or “As the People must be secure in their person and home”. Though these are good and sensible reasons, and while they were certainly considerations…. It specifies the militia as defined above, so clearly all arms, up to and including military grade weapons.

Having properly defined “militia” as used in the vernacular of the Founders, and establishing the meaning of the phrase “well regulated” as it was used at the time the Second Amendment was written, it seems the “well regulated militia” was meant to be “the whole people”, all citizens, who, at need, could work together, and as effectively as a professional army, with the armament they provide themselves. In order to do that the arms and equipment in their possession, part of their “regulation”, would be arms and equipment equal to that of any army they may face. None of this seems to support the interpretation that the Second Amendment applies only to the National Guard, or a state sponsored, organized militia.

As to what constitutes arms… This analysis must conclude that the government shall not infringe (in any way limit) the right of the citizen to own any weapon they can use effectively by themselves, as individuals, or carry them, as is fit.



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