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Was the Second Amendment adopted for slaveholders?

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Civil War reenactors prepare to reenact the Battle of Manassas/Bull Run. In slave states, militias served not only as military forces, but also as slave patrols.

“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.”

I don’t claim to know all the reasons that the United States is among the most gun-obsessed of modern societies. But, at least when it’s time to defend gun rights, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, quoted in full above, is never far from being invoked.

Although the Supreme Court has said that reasonable restrictions can be placed on the right to own a gun, extremists tend to view the right as absolute. Until fairly recently, the courts had held that the maddeningly ambiguous introductory clause about the “well regulated militia” raises the possibility that the right to keep a gun is somehow tied to membership in a militia or something resembling a militia. The Supreme Court recently broke with centuries of precedent by deciding that the “militia” phrase was mere throat-clearing and that the right to keep and bear is an individual right.

Thanks to a long-time Black Ink reader and commenter, Paul Udstrand, my attention was recently called to a long, fascinating 1998 law review article by a law professor who specializes in gun issues which argues that the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution to reassure white slave-owning southerners that the federal government would not use its Constitutional power over state militias to disarm the southern states and leave them vulnerable to a slave revolt.

Although I have spent more time than has the average bear in trying to understand the history of the Constitution, this was a new one on me, and a jaw-dropper.

The author of the article is professor Carl Bogus of the Roger Williams University Law School in Rhode Island. The piece was published in the University of California at Davis Law Review. The full piece is here. It’s long, scholarly in tone and heavily footnoted, but I absolutely encourage you to read the whole thing if you are so motivated. It’s not hard to follow. Whether or not you buy Bogus’ conclusion, you’ll learn a lot.

Thom Hartmann, the lefty radio host and writer, relied on Bogus to make the same argument in a recent piece for Truthout, if you want a shorter version. For now, I’ll just summarize the case.

The right to bear arms was not part of the original Constitution. The Constitution did, without mentioning the word “slavery,” build in a number of protections for the institution in the South. Many of the northern framers were anti-slavery, but it was clear that there would be no union unless the slave states felt assured that the new, more powerful national government was not empowered to abolish slavery.

Patrick Henry
CC/Wikimedia Commons
Patrick Henry

When the draft went to the states for ratification, one of the big battles was in Virginia, where men of towering reputations stood on both sides of the issue. The leader of the pro-ratification forces was James Madison, whose role in the story is so large that he is known as the Father of the Constitution. The noisiest opponent was the fading but famed orator Patrick Henry (whose famous line as a revolutionary was “give me liberty or give me death” and who had been the first post-colonial governor of Virginia). Henry made many, many arguments about the dangers to individual liberty and to the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Virginia of this powerful new federal government.

Bogus emphasizes that many of the arguments dealt with “militia” issues. But Bogus adds a fact that wouldn’t necessarily occur to you. In the slave states, the militias also served the function of slave patrols. The militia was available for military operations, but its biggest function was to police the slaves, intimidate the slaves and make clear to the slaves that any effort at a slave rebellion would be met with overwhelming deadly force — armed force — gun force.

Henry’s plan was to defeat the Constitution by demanding amendments in advance of ratification, and then use the process of rewriting the draft to scuttle the whole project. Henry had a lot of objections on the issue of how the state militias would be treated.

The weird dependent-clause reference at the beginning of the Second Amendment is probably the most famous mention of militias in the Constitution, but that wasn’t written yet. Instead, the Constitution said that Congress was empowered “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;  to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress…”

And, lastly, the Constitution declared that the powerful new president, who wouldn’t necessarily always be a Virginian, “shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.”

The national government could call forth the Virginia militia to execute laws, suppress insurrections and rebel invasions. To what degree would this interfere with Virginia’s ability to use its armed men for the purpose of intimidating the slaves? If Congress was in charge of “organizing” and “governing” the Virginia militia, might that not mean sending the Virginia militia out of state to fight battles and put down insurrections? Might that not mean that, when Virginia’s militia was in some other state, there would be no organized armed men in Virginia to keep the slaves in line? Bogus wrote:

Patrick Henry was even more direct. He drew the audience’s attention to the section of the Constitution that provides that no state may, without the consent of Congress, “engage in War, unless actually invaded,” and asked: “If you give this clause a fair construction, what is the true meaning of it? What does this relate to?” Henry answered this question as follows:

“Not domestic insurrections, but war. If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress insurrections. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress . . . . Congress, and Congress only, can call forth the militia.”

 If members of the audience were previously uncertain about the meaning of [George] Mason and Henry’s warning, this had made it plain. Congress might want to leave the South defenseless against its slaves.

Henry lost the big argument. The Virginia Convention narrowly voted to ratify the Constitution without amending it in advance, but this was based in part on Madison’s promise that a Bill of Rights would be added to the document soon after it took effect.

The Virginia convention appointed a committee which recommended changes to the Constitution and items to make up a Bill of Rights. According to Bogus, four of the proposed amendments related to either the right to bear arms or to the militia. One of the proposals went thus:

That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

James Madison promised to take these matters up in the very first Congress. Madison was elected to the House of Representatives and was its leading member in the first Congress. And he kept the promise. He wrote the proposals that became the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights.

As you can see from the language just above, drafted by the Virginia ratifying convention, what we now call the Second Amendment drew heavily from the language.

Bogus’s long article was titled: The Hidden History of the Second Amendment. He concluded it with these two paragraphs:

What does the hidden history mean with respect to how the Second Amendment should be interpreted? I do not in this Article take any position with respect to “original intent.” Nevertheless, two items of significance ought to be mentioned. First, the Second Amendment was written to assure the South that the militia — the very same militia described in the main body of the Constitution — could be armed even if Congress elected not to arm them or otherwise attempted to ‘disarm’ them. From our perspective today, this may seem like a small matter since Congress retained exclusive authority to determine the composition of the militia, and, thus, who could enjoy the right to bear arms. However, in the context of the concern and circumstances of the time, it was significant. The Amendment deals with keeping and bearing arms in the militia, subject to federal and state regulation. Therefore, to the extent original intent matters, the hidden history of the Second Amendment strongly supports the collective rights position [as opposed to the idea that bearing arms is an individual right].

Second, the Second Amendment lives two lives: one in the law and the other in politics, public policy, and popular culture. The hidden history has ramifications in the second realm as well. The Second Amendment takes on an entirely different complexion when instead of being symbolized by a musket in the hands of the minuteman, it is associated with a musket in the hands of the slave holder.

Comments (50)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 01/17/2013 - 11:13 am.

    So much of today’s politics is still hung up in the politics of slavery and racism. School choice was never an issue until Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. After that ruling choice became the calling card of southern racists who wanted to maintain an educational apartheid in their schools.

    Which makes it even more appalling that modern education deformers have created a system of “choice” (vouchers, but especially charter schools) that are re-segregating schools to an extent equal to the 1960s.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/17/2013 - 02:04 pm.


    but (and I haven’t read the original article yet) the key to interpreting the Second Amendment is not the word ‘militia’, but the word ‘people’.
    ‘People’ is a collective noun; it is more than simply an aggregate of individuals.
    From Merriam-Webster:
    “Definition of PEOPLE
    1 plural : human beings making up a group or assembly or linked by a common interest ”
    This is the way the term is used in the Constitution and its amendments.
    When the Constitution is clearly referring to individuals (such as in deliminating eligibility for office) it uses the word ‘persons’, not ‘people’.
    So, when the Second Amendment refers to the rights of the people, it is not referring to rights of individual persons.
    The history is interesting, but we are ultimately left with the clear meaning of the words. That’s why the Supreme Court for the first two centuries of its history held that the Second Amendment did not refer to an individual right to own weapons (or, for that matter, to corporations as individuals under the Constitution).

    • Submitted by Matthew Zabka on 01/17/2013 - 03:39 pm.


      The Supreme Court has never, “Held that the Second Amendment did not refer to an individual right to own weapons.” Never. Ever. Ridiculous.

      As far as trying to twist the definition of people, read:
      A well regulated library system, necessary to an educated public, the right of the people to keep and read books shall not be infringed.

      I’m curious as to whether anybody could claim with a straight face that the above amendment only ensures that society has a collective right to keep books in libraries.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/17/2013 - 06:42 pm.

        You are literally correct

        That the Supreme Court has not stated specifically that the Second Amendment did not refer to an individual right to own weapons. However, it also did not, until recently, state that it DID. This interpretation is still a new one.
        And where in the Constitution did you find the above library amendment? Words still have definitions.

      • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 01/18/2013 - 02:10 pm.

        I would certainly understand your language to mean

        that libraries are protected, and the people have a right to keep books in libraries and have access to them. It wouldn’t imply getting to keep books anywhere else. Fortunately the 1st Amendment makes the intention clear on keeping books individually. So directly to your point, state militias can’t be disarmed, and members who have to supply their own arms would seem to have a right to keep them. Outside of militia service however, there’s no implication of an unrestricted individual right. That makes gun regulations purely a matter of public policy.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/17/2013 - 02:04 pm.

    The simplest (and probably correct) reading of the Second Amendment hast to do with the preceding document (Articles of Confederation) and the States Rights proponents (present in both the slave and non-slave states). The States Rights issues were not just about salve or non-slave.

    It has been discovered that the loose structure of federalism and the relatively extreme individualism of the states allowed in the Articles was not adequate for the proper functioning of a national government. The Constitution was to address those shortcomings.

    But the distrust of a Federal government remained and States Rights was still a concern for virtually all the states.

    The Second Amendment has two portions–the “well regulated militia” and “right of keeping and bearing arms”. They are not two unrelated concerns–they are a fundamental way of addressing the potential for too great a Federal power and the guarantee of States Rights.

    The Federal government was barred from disarming the people of any state and putting the individual state in a supine position to the Federal government with respect to military strength–as the states “well-regulated militia” was the counter-force to any Federal over-reach. The “well-regulated militia” was to be composed of armed citizens, who, via the Second Amendment, could not be disarmed by federal government fiat.

    The militia’s of that day were typically composed of white males, between the ages of 16 and 65, that were mustered regularly and trained in simple military tactic and methods. Simplified ranks and order of command were established. And, obviously the physically incapable, mentally incompetent, disruptive (unable to play with others) and anti-social types were excluded from the militias. So, “gun control” of a sort, was inherent within the “well-regulated militia” system.

    And besides a way of providing a guard against Federal tyranny, the militias provided a standing army of sorts, geographically dispersed, ready to meet the military needs of a new and expanding nation that touched and was impinging upon the borders of areas controlled by the super-powers of the day (France, Spain, Britain), and the needs of the nation that was subduing an increasingly restive native population.

    And now, these days, the States Rights issues are generally sorted out through non-military means, our borders are settled and native populations diminished, but still we have armed people. There is no “well-regulated militia” that the founding fathers would recognize–there is no muster, no rank, no rules, no training or order. All we have left is the idea that the various groups from individual hunters to self-styled freedom fighters have a right to carry the weapons of the type that they desire in service of whatever idea or delusion that they have.

    • Submitted by Steve Bishoff on 01/18/2013 - 12:00 pm.

      “Well-regulated militia”

      Actually there is a well-regulated militia today. We now call it the National Guard. It serves both its particular State and the Federal Government, depending on circumstances.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/18/2013 - 01:04 pm.

        The current National Guard requires a dual enlistment–into the states own National Guard and into the US Army Reserve. As such, it is not a solely state-controlled militia, and under a strict interpretation of the Constitution, it is not the militia that the writers intended..

        In WW1, it was ruled that National Guard Units could not be sent overseas because their duty was “to repel invasion, suppress insurrection, and execute the laws of the Union”, not fight wars on foreign soil. Dual enlistment was instituted after that point, and we now have a National Guard that is required serve in Iraq and Afghanistan through their enlistment in the Army Reserve.

        Now any state may have an additional militia under the sole control of that state, made clear in a ruling—Perpich v. Department of Defense, 496 U.S. 334 (1990), the court held: “Congress has provided by statute that in addition to its National Guard, a State may provide and maintain at its own expense a defense force that is exempt from being drafted into the Armed Forces of the United States. See 32 U.S.C. 109(c). As long as that provision remains in effect, there is no basis for an argument that the federal statutory scheme deprives Minnesota of any constitutional entitlement to a separate militia of its own.”

        So, no, the National Guard is not really the militia of the Constitution.

        • Submitted by Anthony Young on 09/07/2015 - 01:03 pm.

          There is no such thing as dual enlistment into the National Guard and then into the US Army Reserves. Even though they are both reserve services the National Guard is controlled by the state and the Reserves, in which all the active armed forces have their reserve component, are federally controlled. When needed the National Guard is federalized with title 10 orders to go overseas. I served in all components of the Army. I deployed overseas when on active duty in the regular army and also in the National Guard. During the Iraq campaign all components of the army served in Iraq, the regular army(active duty), the Army Reserves, and the National Guard.

  4. Submitted by Diane Nelson on 01/17/2013 - 03:24 pm.

    Recent Quote

    “The truth is I think Martin Luther King would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.”

    — Larry Ward, gun rights advocate

  5. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/17/2013 - 03:30 pm.

    Completing the Circle

    The next step in the story is probably this one:
    where we find out how African-Americans used their second amendment rights to fight back against the KKK and other hate groups back in the 60’s. This was a situation where the minority absolutely could not trust in reasonable protection from the government and had to be able to defend themselves.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/17/2013 - 04:30 pm.

      Will the Circle be Unbroken?

      It didn’t strike the government as such a good idea back then. The Black Panthers in their orginal iteration (before they cropped up in Philadelphia not intimidating voters) armed themselves as protection against a tyrannical government. You know, just like the NRA says we’re supposed to be doing now. Unfortunately, the California government did not get the memo, and Governor Ronald Reagan signed a strict gun control measure into law. Disarming the panthers was one of he goals of the law.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/17/2013 - 11:09 pm.

        California Gun Control

        And fortunately, gun problems in California disappeared!

        Most of the time, people can rely on police protection. But when they can’t, they need to have some way of protecting themselves.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2013 - 09:53 am.

          Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          The Panthers were protecting themselves from the police. Flexing the Second Amendment was not something to be done by certain types.

          Incidentally, I don’t know anyone who thinks that stricter gun control laws will eliminate gun violence. If elimination is not possible, reduction should be the goal.

          • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/18/2013 - 01:20 pm.

            Gun Violence Reduction

            You may know this already but gun violence (and violent crime generally) have been declining throughout the country over the last thirty some years. This has, perhaps coincidentally, been happening at the same time that gun laws have become looser just about everywhere. The truth is that what we’re doing is working.

            • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 01/18/2013 - 02:18 pm.

              But our crime is much more lethal

              Crime is down in general, so much so that big cities are hardly more dangerous than anywhere else now, and our crime rates look like other western nations. But our gun crime doesn’t. We had about 10,000 gun homicides last year, while Britain had about 60. Those numbers are rough but double Britain’s gun homicides while halving ours, and the picture is the same. And Britain is typical of other western countries, not us. The fact is our crime is much more lethal than anyone else’s, and it’s because of the easy access to guns. It’s the only way we’re different. Think also of how much we have to spend on policing medical costs, and security that other countries don’t have to spend. Posting police in schools — who else even has to think about doing that? The proliferation of guns has proven costly to all of us, not just to those who chose to buy guns.

              So what we’re doing is NOT working.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2013 - 04:03 pm.

              I did know that

              I also know that many causes have been attributed to that decline. The aging of the population, the decline in gun ownership, and the drop in lead pollution are three that spring to mind.

              There have been 62 mass shootings in the US since 1982, or slightly more than 2 per year. Twenty-seven of them happened in the past eight years (more than 3 per year), since the expiration of the ban on assault weapons.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/21/2013 - 10:04 am.


              Actually, the strongest correlation is with the reduction of lead in the environment (such as the elimination of leaded gasoline).
              The putative mechanisms are interesting hypotheses, but it shows the danger of imputing causation from correlations. There are always third variables lurking in the woodpile.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/18/2013 - 09:57 am.

          But not

          a way that makes it MORE likely (as the data show) that people will be killed than if they didn’t have guns.
          Basic benefit vs. risk.

          • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/18/2013 - 01:32 pm.

            You Tell Them

            Go ahead and tell the civil rights folks from the linked article that they were actually taking bigger risks by having guns. I’m not going to do it as I’m one of those sill old fashioned guys who thinks that people can make some decisions about their own lives.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/20/2013 - 01:39 pm.


              We should leave everything up to individual decisions.
              No regulating driving (don’t require drivers licenses, but leave it up to the individual’s judgement to decide whether they should drive or not);
              No regulating the availability of hazardous substances;
              No laws against child neglect and abuse (that should be the parents’ decision);
              etc, etc, etc.
              The point is that guns pose a risk to ALL of us, not just to gun owners. That’s why regulation is necessary for the common good.

              • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/20/2013 - 05:31 pm.


                Paul, are you really saying that allowing people with legitimate danger in their life to choose the risks of arming themselves (suicide, gun accidents, etc.) is the same thing as child abuse and the rest of your list? That seems more than a little bit silly. There are some dangers with gun ownership but for some people there are real risks for *not* owning a gun. That was the case here with the civil rights leaders and it’s the case for many people today.
                As to your ‘what if’ scenario where the KKK was disarmed, I’m not terribly impressed there either. If all of the guns had magically disappeared from the south, then the KKK would have simply burned down homes. Or grabbed people with force and tied them to cars and the like. Guns don’t provide a monopoly on force.
                They do sometimes level the playing field.

                • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/21/2013 - 10:09 am.

                  Level playing fields are sometimes cemetaries.

                  What the data clearly show is that the availability of guns makes violence more likely.
                  Homeowners who have guns are more likely to shoot themselves (people are much more likely to complete a suicide attempt when they use a gun) or each other than to discourage an intruder.
                  In today’s world (at least in the United States) the risks clearly exceed the benefits.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/20/2013 - 01:58 pm.

              More points

              The real point is that the KKK was allowed (by all governments up to and including the States) to form a very UNregulated militia. If they had not been allowed access to guns, and if laws against assault and murder had been equally enforced, a shooting war between the KKK and blacks would not have been necessary. Again, the consequences of a gun culture.
              There’s also a question of scalability. When a small number of blacks armed themselves, the KKK (like most cowards) simply choose easier targets. If most or all blacks had been armed, we probably would have had a real shooting war, and it’s not clear (to be charitable) which side the local and state police would have been on.

    • Submitted by Virginia Martin on 01/20/2013 - 07:25 pm.


      The whole purpose of the second amendment was to allow the southern states to keep their slaves and keep them under control, and also to make sure of the number of slaves for voting purposes: blacks (males) constituted one-third of a vote, so the more people, the more power the state had.
      I’m glad to see this coming out, finally.
      Let me recommend a powerful and eye- and mind-opening book, Slavery by another Name, by Michelle Alexander. Give you a whole different perspective.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/17/2013 - 04:32 pm.

    Interesting omission

    Good stuff here, Eric.

    As an aside, the irony of a gun-rights advocate invoking the assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. in support of individual gun rights is… um… bizarre, to say the least.

    I know they’ve been sent all over the world, and been ordered into combat in place of “regular” troops, but it seems we’re skipping right over a “well-regulated militia” that’s been around for quite some time. I’m speaking, of course, of the National Guard. I haven’t any idea what the details would be, but if the “militia” is to be considered an integral part of the rationale for the 2nd Amendment, then it seems reasonable to me that access to “military-style” and actual “military” weapons might be limited to people who are in the National Guard (and/or what used to be called the “active reserve,” if it still exists). That gives the “militia” access to weapons, defuses the argument about states being “supine” before the federal government, and simultaneously, it probably keeps those weapons out of Larry Ward’s hands.

    Bogus has written a really interesting article, and it’s an interesting argument, as well. At the moment, I’m persuaded by the “collective” versus “individual” right to bear arms. It ought to go without saying that the vision of a musket-holding slave holder is quite a bit less inspiring than a vision of a musket-holding Minuteman.

  7. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 01/17/2013 - 04:35 pm.

    civil rights activity

    The civil rights movement was based on non-violence. Martin Luther King Jr. was following what he learned from Ghandi on peaceful protest. It was only later when some African Americans grew impatient with the progress that some — some! — people began to choose to arm themselves.
    I have never heard that blacks fought with weapons against the Ku Klux Klan. They were all terrified of the threat of the KKK and its hangings. You didn’t even have to provoke them; any excuse would do. The young Chicago boy (I think he was 16) whoe name I forget was brutally murdered after he (allegedly) whistled at a white woman.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/17/2013 - 06:34 pm.

      That would be

      Emmett Till. I can’t believe someone would claim MLK as a patron of gun rights- the greatest and most celebrated exponent of nonviolence since Gandhi, Tolstoy, and Jesus. Or maybe I can believe it.

      Anyway another score for Eric. Fascinating article and I dare say pretty close to, if not exactly, the truth.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/17/2013 - 07:03 pm.

      Emmet Till

      He was 14 years old when his mother reluctantly let him visit relatives in Mississippi. He returned home in a box, a martyr and a true American Hero. An angel appeared to his mother in a dream, telling him her son would never be forgotten.

  8. Submitted by Chad Vesel on 01/17/2013 - 06:58 pm.

    Founding Fathers Intent

    Well the founding fathers intent of the 2nd amendment is absolutely, with no doubt an INDIVIDUAL RIGHT. Secondly, if you want to use the excuse that it is intended just for the militia, then look at who the militia is. It is ever capable man that can carry a gun. The militia is NOT the regular army or the National Guard. Below are just a couple of quotes of the intent of the 2nd Amendment as stated by our founding fathers.

    Laws that forbid the carrying of arms… disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man. (Thomas Jefferson)

    “No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” (Thomas Jefferson)

    A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms. (Richard Henry Lee)

    I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for few public officials. (George mason)

    …to disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them. (George Mason)
    Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. (James Madison)

    Above are just a very few example’s and it is so obviously clear that the right to bear arms is an individual right, and that the militia is anyone capable of carrying a firearm.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/17/2013 - 09:56 pm.


      The Founders disagreed on many things, guns among them (but they still knew nothing about semiautomatic weapons).
      Jefferson is frequently misquoted; see CNN:

    • Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 01/18/2013 - 12:38 am.

      It says “well regulated” militia

      I think you forget several key the words in the second amendment: “A well regulated militia . . .” The idea that a militia is “anyone capable of carrying a firearm” does not meet the test imposed in the second amendment.

      No one is proposing to eviscerate the second amendment. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is not compromised in any way by regulating the type of arms or ammunition. We have banned the possession of sawed-off shotguns, Thompson sub-machine guns (“Tommy Guns”) and BAR’s for many years now. Banning posession of certain types of military style, assault weapons and ammunition doesn’t offend or violate the second amendment.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/18/2013 - 07:24 am.

      Mob or militia?

      A group of armed people is just a mob.

      A “well regulated militia” is something entirely different, with rules, ranks, discipline, plans, regular trainings and musters, typically overseen by the appropriate governmental authority (nation or state). If you need a modern example, think of the Israeli and Swiss citizen/soldiers.

      It was never otherwise.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2013 - 10:43 am.

      Jefferson’s Intent

      The eloquence of his disgust at the idea that, over 200 years later, Americans be bound by the Framers’ notion of government was priceless:

      Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched; who ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs. Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/17/2013 - 10:06 pm.


    You can carry one whenever you want to.

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/18/2013 - 08:12 am.


      So you only have free speech if you’re using a printing press or a quill. Does that seem fair to you?

      • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/18/2013 - 09:34 am.

        Mass Speech is a Bit Less Worrisome than Mass Murder

        It’s a pathetically bad analogy. There is NO government information source whose job it is to provide folks with all the information, day-to-day, a force which MIGHT preclude the need for independent sources to freely provide true and accurate information to the general public,…

        a well-regulated information “militia,” if you will.

        In a civilized society, we can and do keep violence to a minimum, for the purpose of which, we have well-regulated local, county, and state law enforcement and military forces which serve the purposes of a well-regulated militia. We also require that those forces carry out their duties with the LEAST violence necessary to ensure public safety and their own safety.

        But I must admit, I wouldn’t mind seeing speech in the US limited for mass media in one specific way – that repeated and demonstrably FALSE speech is prohibited and actually against the law.

        Such a legal requirement in Canada has kept Rupert Murdoch’s empire of paranoia and falsehood w
        (weasel news chief among them) out of Canada. As far as I can see that has INCREASED their level of freedom markedly over ours, because the opinions of the general public are based on facts and accurate information.

        • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/18/2013 - 01:16 pm.

          Yay Censorship!

          I’m not for limiting free speech rights in any way but arguably the big megaphone of the internet makes speech possibly more damaging today. I find your willingness to censor Rupert Murdoch to be chilling though. I rarely watch any TV news but when I do from the major networks I invariably find slanted and incomplete reporting. Much of it is false by omission. Under your enthusiastic approach, they would have been shut down. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about the Canadian approach to speech but a few years ago there was a fairly high profile case against some journalists that were accused of insulting Islam. The mere possibility of this type of case should be trouble by anyone that respects free speech.

          I agree with your point that we try to keep violence to a minimum. And the police are great at this when they’re there, but the police aren’t always there when you need them. It took the police twenty minutes to get to the Sandy Hook school, even though the station was only a mile and a half away. Twenty minutes!
          I live in a fairly populous area and (hopefully!) if I called the police in an emergency, a squad car would be outside within minutes. That obviously isn’t true for everywhere. And unfortunately, seconds count.

          • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/18/2013 - 02:32 pm.

            20 minute response?? Not true!!


            Here is a transcript of the police audio dispatch of the Connecticut shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

            0935 Sandy Hook School. Caller is indicating she thinks there’s someone shooting in the building.

            0936 Units responding at Sandy Hook School. The front glass has been broken. We’re unsure why.

            0937 All units, the individual I have on the phone is continuing to hear what he believes to be gunfire.

            0938 All units responding to Sandy Hook School at this time. The shooting appears to have stopped. The school is in lockdown.

            0940 I will need two ambulances at this time.

            0940 The shooter is apparently still shooting in the office area.

            0941 Take exit 10… continue on Riverside Road, Dickerson Drive. Make sure you have your vest on.

            0942 Last known shots were in the front of the (inaudible)

            0943 We have one fatal in room one… (inaudible) received a wound to the foot…

            0946 I got bodies here.


            (end quote)

            9:35 to 9:46 doesn’t make 20 minutes



            “We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that time decided to take his own life,” he said.

            Malloy’s description of the horrific events follows a CBS News report that the first police officer on the scene saw the gunman down a long hallway when he entered the school. That officer told CBS that the shooter spotted him and ducked into a room off the hallway where he unleashed a final barrage of bullets before killing himself.

            The officer, joined at this point by his partner, then found Lanza dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound near a group of children and their teacher who had all been shot multiple times.

            Another group of children who had also been shot were found huddled in a nearby bathroom.
            Malloy said on “This Week” that police responded quickly, in just minutes, after getting the first phone call alerting them to the shooting. The governor believed that call was made from an injured person in the school office.


            (end quote)

            5 minutes or less, certainly not 20.

            Shed light, not heat!!!

            • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/18/2013 - 07:27 pm.


              I was relying on CNN’s timeline of events. I guess if we were in Canada those lying liars would now be taken off the air. My larger point that the police aren’t always there when you need them anymore still holds.

          • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/18/2013 - 02:37 pm.

            Not 20 minutes–only a couple!!

            And if you want to check out the timing for yourself, listen to the actual calls:


      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/18/2013 - 10:04 am.


        There’s some discussion of what ‘assemble’ and ‘speak’ mean in the age of the internet (advertising and corporate speech).
        But the issue here was the Founder’s intention in approving the Second Amendment, and whether they would have made the same decision in the context of current weapons.
        At that time the distinction between hunting and military weapons was less clear. Yes, a cannon was clearly a military weapon, but it was not something that individuals could easily purchase or were likely to own.

  10. Submitted by David Mensing on 01/18/2013 - 09:27 am.


    The wording of the Second Amendment is certain ambiguous. As demonstrated above,the words can be interpreted to mean many different things. A future Supreme Court could certainly rule for the collective right as opposed to individual right and be able to justify their decision.

  11. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/18/2013 - 10:55 am.

    Maybe true

    While the inside “joke,” as it were, amongst the Framers, was to put tidbits into the Constitution to protect slavery, such tidbits were not ever intended to have sole utility in protecting slavery.

    I think, though, that the following quotation is important, and something that I’ve thought about quite a lot as a gun owner:

    “That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”

    To analyze this in the context of the 2nd Amendment, we must notice several things:
    1. It is likely that gun ownership was likely related to the militia. Yep–it might dishearten some gun defenders and make some anti-gun crusaders yip with glee, but it shouldn’t. Why? Well, check out item 2.

    2. Standing armies are bad. In other countries and at other times, standing armies were often used to cow the masses. Standing armies were expensive as well and, as a result, leaders often passed that expense onto the people by invading their homes to bully citizens and to house soldiers. Hence the 3rd and 4th Amendments. So? On to point 3.

    3. Because standing armies are bad, and expensive, in order to defend our fledgeling states and union, we needed to be able to call upon the people. It was not the intent to create an army, let alone spend the money training them how to use a gun. And so, it was imperative that those who wished to be armed were not stopped from doing so in order so that they may know how to use those arms should they be called upon for duty as a soldier. But we DO have an army, now, so people don’t need guns, right? Really? Let’s go to point 4.

    4. It was the intent of the founders NOT to subject the people to a standing army for many reasons. But that intent has been clearly divorced from reality (in so many ways–I’d say that the military is in no way subordinate to the civil power). As a result, one can’t simply read “military” or “army” into the 2nd Amendment to justify disarming its citizens. It was never the intent because “militia” clearly did not mean “military” or “army”, and even the original intent has been completely blown by TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS of defense spending in order to build, house, train, and deploy a standing army. That’s dumb, you say, how do we fix it? After all, the words mean something different today, and while I like my Constitution, I don’t really want it to mean what it says it means.

    5. Yes it is dumb. There are a few ways to fix it, though. We can repeal the 2nd Amendment, which won’t happen in the foreseeable future–there’s no way that the red states will ratify it. Popular vote means diddly squat when it comes to modifying the Constitution, and there are a lot of red states. Or we can disband the military and go completely back to militias. Riiiiiiight. Or, we can reinstate the draft and limit gun ownership to those that are eligible for the draft (from which you may not escape). I bet that’ll float like a lead balloon. So, I guess I was wrong. It’s probably not fixable, even though I favor the last fix because the second one is a bit too extreme. Maybe we should focus on the root causes of violence, eh?

  12. Submitted by Albert Nygren on 01/18/2013 - 02:01 pm.

    2nd Amendment for slave owners?

    What poppycock! I have read many of the writings of the founding Fathers and the huge amount of writings documenting the need for the 2nd Amendment for personal protection, the development of character, and to aid law enforcement when it is overwhelmed by criminals (like today), etc., have been omitted from this article to give a false impression of why the 2nd Amendment was enacted.

    Even if the 2nd Amendment was not in the Constitution, individuals would still have the Right to keep and bear arms due to the principles laid out in the Declaration OF Independence; particularly in the statement: “We hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal and are endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are the Right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Inalienable means cannot be taken away and these rights are given us by our Creator, not the Government.

    Inherent to the Right To Life is the Right of Self Defense if some criminal or government official tries to illegally take our right to life away (kill us). Inherent to the right to self defense is the right to have on our person at all times an effective means of self defense which is a firearm that can be conveniently carried and concealed and has sufficient power to be effective.

    Those people who try to take this right away are guilty of all of the rapes and murders that could have been prevented if the victim had had a gun to protect themselves!

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2013 - 04:06 pm.

      The Declaration of Independence

      You did know that the Declaration of Independence is just a statement of principles and not a law, didn’t you?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/18/2013 - 07:28 pm.


      I didn’t know that the NRA and the Tea Party were the founding fathers.
      And technically, the Second Amendment is TO the Constitution; not IN it.
      Regarding your interpretations of the purpose of the Second Amendment, could you be more specific and give us some citations?
      Some of your statements are, shall we say, idiosyncratic.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/19/2013 - 03:18 pm.

    A couple more observations

    First, until the mid 90s the historical and legal consensus (although not the popular consensus) was that the Second Amendment did NOT refer to individual rights. Even the conservative strict Constructionist (i.e. Originalist) Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger declared that the “individualist” interpretation was “intellectual fraud”.

    In the early 90s a number of “scholars” many whom were funded by right wing think tanks started producing books and articles purporting to establish the individualist nature of the Second Amendment. In addition to the Bogus article presented here, Historian Gary Wills examined the individualist canon at length in a 1995 article for the New York Review of Books.

    As for Thomas Jefferson and his quotes, Bogus points out that Jefferson is irrelevant because 1) he had nothing to do with the drafting or ratification of the Second Amendmend. 2) His views to the extent that they pertained to the 2nd Amendment were at odd with his contemporaries.

    Ms. Kahler provides us with following quote:

    “”That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”

    However, she neglects to tell us where it came from. This is a quote from the Virginia Declaration of Rights. It is not any kind of draft original or otherwise of the Constitution or the Second Amendment. As far standing armies are concerned, when the Constitution was drafted the Ant-Federalist positions represented by the Virgina document were defeated, and we ended up with a constitution that grants Congress the right to create and maintain a standing army, while providing for state militias as well. In fact, it was congress’s control of the purse that lead to Southern anxieties about losing their militias (i.e. slave control) should the federal government deprive them of necessary funding or even send them out of the state. It was never the intention to defend the United State with nothing but militia. All up and down the New England coast a series of forts were built and garrisoned by professional federal troops, not militiamen. Our national anthem refers to such a fort, McHenry. McHenry was not garrisoned by local militia. Nor was our Navy composed of militia.

    The Revolution had taught the Founders that militias were incapable of defeating professional armies, that’s why they had to create the Continental Army and enlist the French Army in order to win the war. They knew a standing arm was essential to the defense of the nation. Even the troops that garrisoned Fort Snelling when it was built were part of that standing army. Obviously if the Founders didn’t want a standing army they wouldn’t have created and maintained one.

  14. Submitted by David Mensing on 01/19/2013 - 01:50 pm.

    One More Thought

    In regard to the NRA’s argument that more guns is the answer to the school massacres, could anyone imagine the USA issuing nukes to all the small countries to “protect themselves” from nuclear weapons?

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/20/2013 - 01:01 pm.

    Standing armies

    I just have to say its funny when “conservatives” argue that the Second Amendment is our backstop against standing armies that would run roughshod over our freedoms but then devote every dollar they can scrounge to our standing army. Any dollar devoted to the People is a wasted entitlement but there are never enough dollars for our standing army. While the existence of a standing army to defend the nation was sacrilege when the nation was founded, to question the necessity of a standing today has become sacrilege. It’s nice to see a group of people with such flexible mentalities.

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