The Second Amendment is probably the most controversial provision in the Bill of Rights. People broadly agree that there should be freedom of speech. Most people don’t think the government agents should be able to search anyplace, anytime they want. We may argue about the extent of these rights, but virtually everybody thinks they should be upheld. But when it comes to guns, a lot of people don’t think the average person should have any weapons at all and the government has absolute power to regulate firearms, the Second Amendment notwithstanding. These people are downright scared of the Second Amendment. And of course, this raises the ire of people on the other side of the debate who see gun-grabbers intent on violating their fundamental rights.
So, why is the Second the scariest amendment?
A look at the history of the amendment in a modern context shines some light on the stark divisions.
As we all know, the Second Amendment is part of the U.S. Constitution and it basically lays down the groundwork to protect the right to bear arms.
Namely, the amendment states that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is fundamental in the formation of a regulated militia and is not to be infringed by federal actions.
In other words, the Second Amendment is based on the fact that a free state, in order to be ensured with security, must trust a militia formed by the people and, obviously, their guns.
However, this very amendment scares people the most, mainly because many people are scared of firearms and government authorities don’t know how to take the amendment into account when it comes to gun control.
As mentioned above, federal gun control would basically be something against the Second Amendment. And, as we all know, amendments cannot be easily broken. They are absolute restrictions on government power.
For example, if a witness takes the Fifth in the court of law, no one can persuade them to answer any questions. Lawyers and the jury can suspect an answer, but the witness has the full right not to answer.
The same applies to the Second Amendment. It is ensured to the American people, by law. It cannot be taken away.
So, how does gun control interfere with this?
- If you carefully read the Second Amendment, you’d understand, as most people have, that the phrase the right of the people to keep and bear Arms makes for an individual constitutional right for all of the citizens of the United States.
- As a result, Congress can’t come up with laws that would prohibit firearm possession.
- On the other hand, certain scholars believe that the Second Amendment was meant to restrict Congress from creating a law that would deny the state its right to self-defense. This is the so-called collective rights theory – it asserts that the US citizens don’t actually have an individual right to possess firearms and that federal, state, and local bodies of law have the authority to regulate firearms without having to take a constitutional right into account.
The Double-Edged Sword
It goes without saying why there’s currently a red flag above gun control – and good reasons why the Second Amendment scares people the most. It’s because this very amendment can profoundly affect both parties to this debate.
Regardless of how the higher authorities decide to rule in terms of gun control, they have to take the Second Amendment into account to some degree. Naturally, the worst part is that it can be seen from two different points of view – one that can establish gun control and one that can make it void.
The Historical Militia
On the other hand, we also have to take into account that the American people are kind of trying to make an 18th-century law fit modern times. The truth is that, given the current state of the country, a militia may not be the right answer for national defense.
This is because, in the 18th century, it was believed that the citizens should all be part-time soldiers. Both federalists and anti-federalists, despite their disagreements, were devoted to this idea.
However, having a standing army was the ideal way to stop the ideas of that time – namely, the thoughts of the revolution that people had on their minds.
The Standing Army
Moreover, the Second Amendment was also meant to prevent the U.S. from establishing a professional, standing army. Obviously, we couldn’t imagine the country not having the army it has today but, if we’re honest, the 18th century didn’t actually need this type of army.
According to the thinking of those times, a society that had a standing army couldn’t actually become free, mainly because the leaders of that army could turn their back to the society. Instead, as mentioned above, it was believed that a well-regulated militia made up of the people was more fit to keep the state safe, secure, and free.
The Second Amendment and Gun Control
Even though the militia was very important and those who wrote the Bill of Rights wanted all of the citizens to be in it, they still left room for those that wouldn’t be part of the militia.
Historically, if an individual was not allowed to participate in the militia, then the leaders of the founder’s generation wouldn’t allow him access to weapons. Therefore, there were classes of people that could not bear arms – at least that was what they believed.
The Second Amendment was absolute – but the problem was that not everyone completely understood it. In fact, the second amendment was an absolute prohibition on the federal regulation of guns, as expressed by the founders.
In truth the federal government would not have much authority over firearms even without the Second Amendment, mainly because it has no power to do such a thing. There was no power delegated to Congress to regulate the individual ownership of firearms. This was considered a matter for each state to deal with.
The only power delegated to Congress is to regulate the militia. This was the root of the problem: the federal gun control imposed over the militia, as authorized by the Constitution. They feared that federal control over guns would be imposed because of the ties between firearms ownership and the militia. The Second Amendment was actually there to ensure that this did not happen.
The Regulation of Firearms
As mentioned, the Second Amendment was there to make sure that the federal control over gun ownership did not occur. However, while the problem with the militia acted as the prompt behind the Second Amendment, the restriction on the federal power was still absolute. Everyone, part of the militia or not, has the natural right to bear arms – and that right should not be infringed.
Now, the problem was that the Second Amendment did not preclude the firearms state regulations – as well as who had the authority to impose those regulations. In the agreement, it was concluded that the federal government did not impose them – but gun regulations were still there at the state level.
The Bottom Line
In the end, it might be that the government – or more precisely, what it stands for – is what triggers this fear of the Second Amendment. Some people fear that their rights will be taken away – that they will remain unprotected against the higher power. They believe government authority needs to be checked. But others fear what they see as a growing level of gun violence and believe that the lack of gun regulations will lead to even more violence.
This is why the Second Amendment is key – it provides a hard line in the sand not subject to the emotional whims of the day.