The Founders’ Intent With the Second Amendment
The are misconceptions among people who make up the Left and Right of the political spectrum when it comes to the right to keep and bear arms. The ACLU’s stance on the Second Amendment best exemplifies the Left’s position on guns which (in part) states that the Second Amendment protects a collective right rather than an individual right. Some go further stating that the Second Amendment applied to the Militias in terms of the National Guard due to the reference to a well regulated Militia and the security of a free State.
There are those on the Right who mostly get it right affirming that the right to bear arms is an individual right. However, some conservatives (as articulated by John Ashcroft) go on to assert that gun ownership is subject to reasonable (whatever that means) regulations. Now let us consider the Founding Father’s intent. The key to doing so is encompassed in two texts. In Federalist Paper 29, Alexander Hamilton states:
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. It would form an annual deduction from the productive labor of the country to an amount which, calculating upon the present members of the people, would not fall far short of a million pounds. To attempt a thing which would abridge the mass of labor and industry to so considerable an extent would be unwise: and the experiment, if made, could not succeed, because it would not long be endured. Little more can reasonably be aimed at with respect to the people at large than to have them properly armed and equipped; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year.
But though the scheme of disciplining the whole nation must be abandoned as mischievous or impracticable; yet it is a matter of the utmost importance that a well-digested plan should, as soon as possible, be adopted for the proper establishment of the militia. The attention of the government ought particularly to be directed to the formation of a select corps of moderate size, upon such principles as will really fit it for service in case of need. By thus circumscribing the plan, it will be possible to have an excellent body of well-trained militia ready to take the field whenever the defense of the State shall require it. This will not only lessen the call for military establishments, but if 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. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.
In Federalist Paper 46, James Madison states:
Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government: still it would not be going too far to say the State governments with the people on their side would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for the common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the late successful resistance of this country against the British arms will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments of the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia by these governments and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance that the throne of every tyranny of Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.
Both Madison and Hamilton make the case not only for a national army, but also state militias. However, they take their logic on the ability of the populace to bear arms a step further. As the above two quotes indicate, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton clearly state not only should the United States be defended by a military and militias organized by the individual states but also that the populace of the US is to be equipped with arms equal to the United States armed forces. This done so as to be a check on the potential of the US deteriorating into either a dictatorship or some semblance of a dystopia. The ability for the people to bear arms includes (you guessed it) fully automatic machine guns, rocket launchers, tanks, along with ICBM’s.
Of course this does mean that people like myself am hindered by the ability to purchase them and is not to say that I think that the US is a despotism or being ruled by dictators. I do not think a dictatorship would ever happen in the United States and believe or nation’s institutions (especially the military) would never allow it. However, if one wants to actually understand what the Founders of the United States meant with regards to the people being able to bear arms you need look no further than what James Madison and Alexander Hamilton said. So when conservatives and liberals try to make exceptions or distinctions regarding the populace’s access to weapons (such as fully automatic firearms) for their self defense, know that they are in direct conflict with what Founders such as James Madison (Father of the Bill of Rights) and Alexander Hamilton articulated and intended.