What is the Second Amendment to the US Constitution?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2016
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The Second Amendment of the US Constitution is often referred to as giving citizens the right to bear arms. The text of the official copy when distributed to the states reads in the following manner: “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.” In the version first ratified by the Senate, there is a comma after the word "arms."

There is much precedent in English history for people to have access to their own weapons as provided in the Second Amendment. People were expected to answer the call to military service from their kings, and to bring their own weapons to any wars. In fact, keeping a weapon in the late middle ages wasn’t exactly a right, but was instead a requirement. This changed in the 17th century, when English citizens had to have ownership of a certain amount of property in order to keep weapons, and the law was further extended in 1686 as King James II made arms ownership illegal for Protestants. James’ decision wasn’t reversed until the late 17th century.


It’s easy to see why American immigrants, many of them Protestants, would have held the right to bear arms especially important, and been anxious to see this provision guaranteed. In its early days, the country they began to colonize had plenty of dangers and required hunting skills. In both England and the New World, though, there were fears of what would occur if all people possessed war-worthy weapons. Dissatisfaction regarding government did lead to violent uprising.

One of the other issues addressed in the Second Amendment is that the US government needed to have a well-ordered militia when required. There was concern after the American Revolutionary War that a standing army, one composed of professional soldiers, could threaten the nation's security, and it also was expensive. Putting the burden of keeping peace in the land on its citizenry was a partial solution. Contrasted to this viewpoint was that the framers of the Constitution knew that protesting the government could easily lead to more violent uprisings. In context of the just fought war, it wasn’t unreasonable to suppose that people might still find reasons to be dissatisfied with the new United States government.

It’s important to understand the complexity of intent in framing this amendment. After arguments, the US House and Senate created and ratified the final version, which emphasizes the need for people to own arms to keep America and its people safe. In present interpretation, some people prefer the literal translation, that “the right... to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Others look to the spirit in which the amendment was written and suggest that keeping Americans safe is no longer best served by everyone having weapons, that the Founding Fathers couldn’t envision the strength and proliferation of weapons in modern day, and that certain types of weapons should be strictly regulated or outlawed.


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One of the most intriguing things about the Second Amendment is how it is seen as somewhat separate and apart from the rest of the Bill of Rights. For example, you will often find the same people who argue that he First Amendment should be interprested as broadly as possible will turn around and declare that the Second Amendment should be interpretated very narrowly.

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