History of the Second Amendment

History of the Second Amendment-

By Gwen Billingsley

The version of the 2nd. Amendment as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:

“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.”

The phrase “a well regulated milita”…is read by some to limit the individuals rights but other court decisions just ignore the first clause.

We quote Wikipedia for the following background of the 2nd. Amendment.

Influence of the English Bill of Rights of 1689

Main article: Bill of Rights 1689

The right to have arms in English history is believed to have been regarded as a long-established natural right in English law, auxiliary to the natural and legally defensible rights to life.[9] The English Bill of Rights emerged from a tempestuous period in English politics during which two issues were major sources of conflict: the authority of the King to govern without the consent of Parliament and the role of Catholics in a country that was becoming ever more Protestant. Ultimately, the Catholic James II was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution, and his successors, the Protestants William III and Mary II, accepted the conditions that were codified in the Bill. One of the issues the Bill resolved was the authority of the King to disarm its subjects, after James II had attempted to disarm many Protestants, and had argued with Parliament over his desire to maintain a standing (or permanent) army.[10] The bill states that it is acting to restore “ancient rights” trampled upon by James II, though some have argued that the English Bill of Rights created a new right to have arms, which developed out of a duty to have arms.[11] In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court did not accept this view, remarking that the English right at the time of the passing of the English Bill of Rights was “clearly an individual right, having nothing whatsoever to do with service in the militia” and that it was a right not to be disarmed by the crown and was not the granting of a new right to have arms.[12]

The text of the English Bill of Rights of 1689 includes language protecting the right of Protestants against disarmament by the Crown. This document states: “That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.”[13] It also contained text that aspired to bind future Parliaments, though under English constitutional law no Parliament can bind any later Parliament.[14] Nevertheless, the English Bill of Rights remains an important constitutional document, more for enumerating the rights of Parliament over the monarchy than for its clause concerning a right to have arms.

The statement in the English Bill of Rights concerning the right to bear arms is often quoted only in the passage where it is written as above and not in its full context. In its full context it is clear that the bill was asserting the right of Protestant citizens not to be disarmed by the King without the consent of Parliament and was merely restoring rights to Protestants that the previous King briefly and unlawfully had removed. In its full context it reads:

Whereas the late King James the Second by the Assistance of diverse evill Councellors Judges and Ministers imployed by him did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant Religion and the Lawes and Liberties of this Kingdome (list of grievances including) … by causing severall good Subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when Papists were both Armed and Imployed contrary to Law, (Recital regarding the change of monarch) … thereupon the said Lords Spirituall and Temporall and Commons pursuant to their respective Letters and Elections being now assembled in a full and free Representative of this Nation takeing into their most serious Consideration the best meanes for attaining the Ends aforesaid Doe in the first place (as their Auncestors in like Case have usually done) for the Vindicating and Asserting their ancient Rights and Liberties, Declare (list of rights including) … That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.[13]

The historical link between the English Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment, which both codify an existing right and do not create a new one, has been acknowledged by the U.S. Supreme Court.[15][16]
The English Bill of Rights includes the proviso that arms must be as “allowed by law.” This has been the case before and after the passage of the Bill. While it did not override earlier restrictions on the ownership of guns for hunting, it was written to preserve the hunting rights of the landed aristocracy and is subject to the parliamentary right to implicitly or explicitly repeal earlier enactments.[17] There is some difference of opinion as to how revolutionary the events of 1688-89 actually were, and several commentators make the point that the provisions of the English Bill of Rights did not represent new laws, but rather stated existing rights. Mark Thompson wrote that, apart from determining the succession, the English Bill of Rights did “little more than set forth certain points of existing laws and simply secured to Englishmen the rights of which they were already posessed [sic].”[18] Before and after the English Bill of Rights, the government could always disarm any individual or class of individuals it considered dangerous to the peace of the realm.[19] In 1765, William Blackstone wrote the Commentaries on the Laws of Englanddescribing the right to have arms in England during the 18th century as a natural right of the subject that was “also declared” in the English Bill of Rights.[20][21]

The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute I W. & M. st.2. c.2. and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.[22]

Although there is little doubt that the writers of the Second Amendment were heavily influenced by the English Bill of Rights, it is a matter of interpretation as to whether they were intent on preserving the power to regulate arms to the states over the federal government (as the English Parliament had reserved for itself against the monarch) or whether it was intent on creating a new right akin to the right of others written into the Constitution (as the Supreme Court recently decided). Some in the U.S. have preferred the “rights” argument arguing that the English Bill of Rights had granted a right. The need to have arms for self-defence was not really in question. Peoples all around the world since time immemorial had armed themselves for the protection of themselves and others, and as organized nations began to appear these arrangements had been extended to the protection of the state.[23] Without a regular army and police force (which in England was not established until 1829), it had been the duty of certain men to keep watch and ward at night and to confront and capture suspicious persons. Every subject had an obligation to protect the king’s peace and assist in the suppression of riots.[24]

Experience in America prior to the U.S. Constitution
Ideals that helped to inspire the Second Amendment in part are symbolized by the minutemen
In no particular order, early American settlers viewed the right to arms and/or the right to bear arms and/or state militias as important for one or more of these purposes:
• deterring tyrannical government;
• repelling invasion;
• suppressing insurrection;
• facilitating a natural right of self-defense;
• participating in law enforcement;
• enabling the people to organize a militia system.

Which of these considerations they thought were most important, which of these considerations they were most alarmed about, and the extent to which each of these considerations ultimately found expression in the Second Amendment is disputed. Some of these purposes were explicitly mentioned in early state constitutions; for example, the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 asserted that, “the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state”.[35]

During the 1760s pre-revolutionary period, the established colonial militia was composed of colonists, which included a number who were loyal to British imperial rule. As defiance and opposition to the British rule developed, a distrust of these Loyalists in the militia became widespread among the colonists, known as Patriots, who favored independence from British rule. As a result, these Patriots established independent colonial legislatures to create their own militias that excluded the Loyalists and then sought out to stock up independent armories for their militias. In response to this arms build up, the British Parliament established an embargo on firearms, parts and ammunition on the American colonies.[36]

British and Loyalist efforts to disarm the colonial Patriot militia armories in the early phases of the American Revolution resulted in the Patriot colonists protesting by citing the Declaration of Rights, Blackstone’s summary of the Declaration of Rights, their own militia laws and common law rights to self-defense.[37] While British policy in the early phases of the Revolution clearly aimed to prevent coordinated action by the Patriot militia, some have argued that there is no evidence that the British sought to restrict the traditional common law right of self-defense.[37] Patrick J. Charles disputes these claims citing similar disarming by the patriots and challenging those scholars’ interpretation of Blackstone.[38]

The right of the colonists to arms and rebellion against oppression was asserted, for example, in a pre-revolutionary newspaper editorial in 1769 Boston objecting to the British army suppression of colonial opposition to the Townshend Acts:

Instances of the licentious and outrageous behavior of the military conservators of the peace still multiply upon us, some of which are of such nature, and have been carried to such lengths, as must serve fully to evince that a late vote of this town, calling upon its inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defense, was a measure as prudent as it was legal: such violences are always to be apprehended from military troops, when quartered in the body of a populous city; but more especially so, when they are led to believe that they are become necessary to awe a spirit of rebellion, injuriously said to be existing therein. It is a natural right which the people have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights, to keep arms for their own defence; and as Mr. Blackstone observes, it is to be made use of when the sanctions of society and law are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.[37]

The armed forces that won the American Revolution consisted of the standing Continental Army created by the Continental Congress, together with various state and regional militia units. In opposition, the British forces consisted of a mixture of the standing British Army, Loyalist Militia and Hessianmercenaries. Following the Revolution, the United States was governed by the Articles of Confederation. Federalists argued that this government had an unworkable division of power between Congress and the states, which caused military weakness, as the standing army was reduced to as few as 80 men.[39] They considered it to be bad that there was no effective federal military crackdown to an armed tax rebellion in western Massachusetts known as Shays’ Rebellion.[40] Anti-federalists on the other hand took the side of limited government and sympathized with the rebels, many of whom were former Revolutionary War soldiers. Subsequently, the Philadelphia Convention proposed in 1787 to grant Congress exclusive power to raise and support a standing army and navy of unlimited size.[41][42] Anti-federalists objected to the shift of power from the states to the federal government, but as adoption of the Constitution became more and more likely, they shifted their strategy to establishing a bill of rights that would put some limits on federal power.[43]

Modern scholars Thomas B. McAffee and Michael J. Quinlan have stated that James Madison “did not invent the right to keep and bear arms when he drafted the Second Amendment; the right was pre-existing at both common law and in the early state constitutions.”[44] In contrast, historian Jack Rakove suggests that Madison’s intention in framing the Second Amendment was to provide assurances to moderate Anti-Federalists that the militias would not be disarmed.[45]

One aspect of the gun control debate is the conflict between gun control laws and the right to rebel against unjust governments. Blackstone in his Commentaries alluded to this right to rebel as the natural right of resistance and self preservation, to be used only as a last resort, exercisable when “the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression”.[46] Some believe that the framers of the Bill of Rights sought to balance not just political power, but also military power, between the people, the states and the nation,[47] as Alexander Hamilton explained in 1788:

[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.[47][48]

Some scholars have said that it is wrong to read a right of armed insurrection in the Second Amendment because clearly the founding fathers sought to place trust in the power of the ordered liberty of democratic government versus the anarchy of insurrectionists.[49][50] Other scholars, such as Glenn Reynolds, contend that the framers did believe in an individual right to armed insurrection. The latter scholars cite examples, such as the Declaration of Independence (describing in 1776 “the Right of the People to…institute new Government”) and the New Hampshire Constitution (stating in 1784 that “nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind”).[51]

There was an ongoing debate in the 1780s about “the people” fighting governmental tyranny (as described by Anti-Federalists); or the risk of mob rule of “the people” (as described by the Federalists) related to the ongoing revolution in France.[52] A widespread fear, during the debates on the ratification of the Constitution, was the possibility of a military takeover of the states by the federal government, which could happen if the Congress passed laws prohibiting states from arming citizens,[53] or prohibiting citizens from arming themselves.[37] Though it has been argued that the states lost the power to arm their citizens when the power to arm the militia was transferred from the states to the federal government by Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, the individual right to arm was retained and strengthened by the Militia Act of 1792 and the similar act of 1795.[54][55]

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