The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America is one of the most hotly debated issues in our modern world. On its face, the Second Amendment is a very simple piece of language. Yet it has garnered extreme emotions and reactions in many people. Over time the true intent of the Second Amendment has been lost and confused. It is well past time to clarify the issue. Let’s start by looking at the exact words used:
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.
Parsing the Second Amendment
Over the decades various scholars, courts and individual citizens have tried to understand the meaning and intent of the Second Amendment by parsing its words in various ways. Many pro-gun lobbies have sought to prove that the Rights granted by the amendment, and by logical extension the U.S. Constitution, are “God Given” Rights and thus cannot and should not be limited in any way. This argument makes sense when considered as the right to defend oneself (such as the Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 – District of Columbia v. Heller). But it is just as important that we understand what is meant by the term “Self-Defense”.
What Is Self-Defense
According to the web site dictionary.law.com the term “Self Defense” means:
the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor, if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger.
This is a legal definition frequently used to justify one’s actions during a conflict or confrontation. Many view this as such an important provision of the law that it is often carefully defined by multiple laws and regulations. The additional laws are intended to clarify any confusion that might arise from difficult or unusual circumstances. For example Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was used by George Zimmerman to justify his killing of the unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.
When is it Self-Defense?
The most critical clause of the self-defense definition is often overlooked though. That clause reads:
… if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger.
The specific reference to the timing of the threat (“… is/are in danger”) is absolutely crucial to proper application of the self-defense protection. Specifically it says that at the moment a self-defensive action is taken the defender must reasonably believe they are under imminent threat. It does not say that the defender thinks a threat might materialize some time in the future. It does not say that the defender is generally afraid and thus thinks someone is out to get them. It says only that the defender must reasonably believe their life or safety is under threat at the precise moment a self-defensive action is taken.
This distinction is often applied to disqualify self-defense as the justification when a weapon is displayed. Brandishing a gun or drawing a knife can be seen as a self-defensive action only when a reasonable person would feel their life and/or safety is under immediate threat. By logical extension, open display of a weapon by the average citizen cannot be considered a self-defensive act and thus does not fall under the protections of the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment and the Militia
We must go back to the exact language of the Second Amendment in order to fully understand its intent. In their wisdom, the Founding Fathers put the exact intent in the first four words:
A well regulated Militia, …
Despite the many attempts to interpret the Second Amendment as granting individuals rights to “keep and bear arms“, it is more than apparent their intent was to create a “well regulated Militia“. They knew that defense of the new State could only be possible by means of an armed body, trained and drilled, ready to defend the State and its citizens. The opening reference to a well regulated Militia meant to provide the means for keeping the State whole and safe even when the creation of a formal standing army was not allowed.
Individuals and the Militia
In fact there is no reference whatsoever to a single individual or their rights in the language of the Second Amendment. The only reference to an individual is actually to a group, specifically “the right of the people“. This language is yet another reference to an organized body of individuals, not to any one person. Furthermore it demands that such a body be “well-regulated”. In the vernacular of the day this means a collection of properly trained and drilled citizens. It does not mean any single person. It does not mean the average untrained citizen. It very specifically means an organized, trained and skilled group with the sole intent of protecting the fledgling State.
Well Regulated Means Well Trained
Any athlete, performer or skilled worker will tell you that in order to maintain their utmost performance, they must routinely train and practice. Every branch of the military knows this to be true, it is why they routinely train their troops as a unit. Every police force knows this to be true, it is why they must maintain their proficiency training. Every athletic team knows this to be true, it is why they gather as a team and train on a daily basis.
Under the rights and protections of the Second Amendment, it is a requirement that the Militia … those organized and formalized as a unified body … drill and train routinely. It means that in order to be a member of “the people” allowed to “keep and bear arms”, one must participate in that training. It means that those wishing to own and carry weapons must also maintain their proficiency and meet qualifications. One cannot just declare themselves to be a member of “the Militia” as that would violate the requirement for a “well-regulated” force.
Intent of the Second Amendment
By its very wording, the Second Amendment makes clear its intent is to protect the United States of America. Its intended method of providing that protection is by means of a well-regulated Militia. It does not allow normal unregulated and untrained citizens to own weapons. To interpret and apply the Second Amendment in any other fashion is to defy the clear intent. And that is a very clear and disgusting perversion of one of the most important documents in human history.