Myth 2: The Founders’ Intent Was Unrestricted Right to Bear Arms

Many gun advocates argue that the founders of our country recognized that the right to bear arms was intended to protect individuals from the government. This idea is nowhere to be found in the Federalist Papers or other contemporary documents. The wording of the Second Amendment was no less carefully constructed than any other right delineated. “A well regulated militia…” means a regulated militia.

Let’s set aside the idea that a militia is a group of people (not individuals) organized for defense, and that this definition may, or may not, be interpreted to mean that individuals have the right to bear arms. It’s arguable, but that argument was settled legally by the Supreme Court a few years ago when Conservative activists on the court read between the lines of the Constitution and invented the right of individual gun ownership. The idea is that the right to bear arms is restricted as are all other rights, such as speech, such that the exercise of the right does not cause harm to the collective rights of others (e.g. not allowing speech such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater).

The context of the Second Amendment being articulated in the Constitution is important. At the time, we were less a country than a collection of states. The country was wilderness with dangerous animals, Native Americans resisting the theft of their lands, and a continuing threat from imperialist countries such as Great Britain and Spain. We had no national army. Forming and regulating local militias was a concept for the collective defense. It is doubtful that the Founders intended for individuals to possess weapons of mass destruction, and even the most ardent gun rights advocates concede that some restrictions should apply. The purpose of militia in the Constitutional debates was for states to be able to protect themselves from attack by a foreign power. For example, the National Guard is the intended form of a well-regulated militia.

Some gun advocates argue that we need weapons to protect us from the “government.” Let’s think about that for a moment. What they are saying is that we need weapons to protect us from law enforcement, which is why they also say we need to have weapons and ammunition that can penetrate protective armor and kill police. Of course, they never admit that fact, even though law enforcement agencies all over the country know this to be true (the NRA types allude to the specter of the men in “black helicopters” as if they really did exist). Is that acceptable to society?

They argue to protect us from the “Government” we need weapons to match the firepower of government. Since our government applies a strategy of deterrence by maintaining say, ICBMs, are they advocating individual rights to have a similar nuclear deterrence? It’s a silly notion and they have no response to that argument. How reasonable is the fear of government agents going door to door confiscating our guns? They do argue that the government (Democrats) are coming to get our guns and ammo, and every attempt to legislate gun control measures is considered the beginning of that process. They were openly suggesting that this was Obama’s agenda during the 2008 election. If the government is coming for our guns then they will get them, no matter what weapons you have. No one reasonably believes that individuals should possess thermonuclear weapons.

Having guns for self-defense, hunting or even collecting is a concept even most gun control advocates accept. It’s when those guns involve military assault weapons and ammunition that the issue gets as absurd as it is dangerous. The only purpose of an assault rifles and ammunition is to kill as many people as quickly as possible on a battlefield. Which Founding Father articulated that intent when debating the Constitution? None. Restrictions on the right to bear arms are clearly Constitutional, the only issue is balancing a concern for preserving the right with common sense. The problem is less rhetorical than emotional.

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