The interpretation of the Second Amendment commonly accepted by many Americans is that the right to bear arms is necessary to maintain freedom against a tyrannical government. However, when looking back at the historical context of why the amendment was passed, it is painfully obvious this was far from the intent of the founders.
The Second Amendment’s original intent was the disbanding of standing armies because they were viewed as a threat to a stable government. Following a war, the army would be forced to disband, forming local militia groups in their states.
This actually served to protect the government against a hostile takeover by a standing army rather than to empower the people to fight against a tyrannical government, the exact opposite of how many interpret the amendment.
Militias were regulated by the states and southern militias were referred to as slave patrols. In Georgia, for example, all white plantation owners or their white male employees were required by law to join the Georgia militia, making regular inspections of slaves’ quarters to prevent uprisings.
The main concern at the time to many southern slaveholders like George Mason and Patrick Henry was that the proposed constitution’s general welfare clause (Article 1, Section 8) could be interpreted to eventually free the slaves.
The general welfare clause included giving the federal government the power the supervise and regulate the militias. This worried slaveholders due to the possibility that federal militias could absorb state militias, causing them to no longer be slavery-enforcing institutions.
There was precedent for thisconcept in the lead-up to the revolutionary war during which slaves were offered freedom in exchange for fighting for the British army.
To compromise with slave states, at the command of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison changed the original draft of the Second Amendment from reading “a well-armed and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country” to “free state,” to be sure there was zero ambiguity as to the state’s right to regulate state militias.
So, to be clear, the Second Amendment was enacted to disband standing armies and to allow slave states to regulate slave patrols in order to enforce and maintain the institution of slavery. Nothing to do with fending off a tyrannical government.
Until the famous court case District of Columbia v. Heller, it was understood that the right to bear arms was primarily endowed to militias, including state defense forces and the National Guard.
This case redefined the right to bear arms to be expanded to individuals, interpreting “militia” to include all able-bodied men who were capable of being called to serve in one.
This controversial case was a turning point in how the Second Amendment was interpreted with regard to self-defense and non-military gun ownership rights, overturning decades of jurisprudence on Second Amendment cases.
Now that the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment has completely changed to individual gun rights, gun ownership has become a constitutional issue rather than a political issue like it had been previously.
Unfortunately, overturning District of Columbia v. Heller is extremely unlikely and would have little effect on gun legislation.
Now that individual gun ownership rights have been grounded in judicial precedent, there will likely continue to be the endless expansion of gun rights by gun anarchists in groups like the National Rifle Association.
The intention of the Second Amendment was never to bolster individual gun ownership rights, rather it was specifically passed to protect the federal government from a military coup and to prolong the institution of slavery.
By shifting the legal interpretation of the amendment to non-military gun ownership, this strays greatly from the main reasons the amendment was passed to begin with.
The U.S. cannot keep following this path of universal gun accessibility. It is a threat to public safety, and it was not the founders’ intention in the slightest.