Scholars debate the meaning behind the second amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has chosen to take up a 2nd Amendment suit on only 3 occasions in its entire history. It is not that the 2nd amendment is sacred, it is just that there is no consensus on the writers’ intendent. Scalia commented on “original intent” as that was his belief. But he never spoke on the 2nd.
I did my graduate work on U.S. history, and while the Revolutionary War was not my focus, I was required to be more than just conversant in it. And because of that, I like to point to what the colonists called the “Townsend Act.” They detested all of them. But if you look at the Townsend Acts and the other acts instituted between 1765 and 1774, you will find they directly correspond to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. When the writers were constructing the Constitution they knew it would need amending and they also knew what those amendments would look like. But for the sake of expedience, getting 9 colonies to agree upon the document, they wrote the main document exactly as you see it today. The Bill of Rights, 10 amendments, were all passed in the first year of America’s existence. George Mason and James Madison, a Virginian wrote them, but we had already added a state, Vermont, which meant they needed 10 of the 14 to ratify. Mason actually wrote 12 amendments. The 11th Amendment was how states were represented in the house. Madison wanted a set small constituency for each congressman. This amendment failed. But the 12th amendment was one we can relate to today even better. It forbade Congress from giving itself pay raises. Of course that one failed.
But back to the 2nd Amendment. It is brief: “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.” The colonists had, from their earliest days in America, maintained a colonial militia. This was made up of men who assembled once a month on the town’s green, practiced a bit and went back home. Because the colonial governments were always strapped for cash, the members of the militia were required to supply their own guns, which they did.
About 1765, the British government began a concerted effort to “control” the colonists in what they perceived as acts contrary to the desires of the crown. The British government sent British soldiers and British Marines to take the place of the militia and maintain the peace, as they saw fit. At the same time, they replaced the duly elected governors of the colonies with governor-general, their own men. Additionally, they replaced judges hearing admiralty (seagoing) cases with their own extremely biased judges.
Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts, a British appointee, declared that the storage of weapons and gun powder to be illegal and sent numerous forays to Plymouth, Salem, Portsmouth, NH and other locales, before ordering out his troops on the fateful day of April 19, 1775. The troop commander was ordered to capture all arms and powder known to be stored in Concord and bring into British possession. We all know how that worked out.
And so in the late 1780s when the Constitution and its amendments were being considered and written, the idea that a government could outlaw a state’s right to maintain its own militia was particularly sour in their mouths. It is important at this point to state that each colony joining the central Federal Government made it known that it desired as much autonomy as possible. The 1792 Massachusetts Militia was formed under the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd Amendment strictly outlawed the Federal Government from disallowing such an action.
In 1792, people who possessed guns tended to be members of the militia. And those people tended to be farmers, although certainly not exclusively so. But by that time the state government was suppling the guns necessary for its militia. The militia of 1792 is the National Guard of today. There is a direct lineage. Some states, however, maintain both, a National Guard force which can be called up to federal duty and a militia force which cannot be called up to federal status. In both cases, however, the governor is the commander-in-chief of such forces.
It is my belief that when Madison wrote “the right of the people” he was simply echoing the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence which starts “We the people.” People is being used in a plural sense and was never intended to mean the individual. I am certain it did not occur to Madison that people might grasp this amendment as an individual’s right. But Madison’s intent is clear. He meant the amendment to only apply to military forces.
Now, consider the fact that as of 1986 the purchase of machine guns was made illegal. In a curious twist, it is not, however, illegal to possess one but it cannot be made after 1986. And according to the ATF, as of 1986 there were only 182,619 that were transferable.
Now the only difference between a machine gun and an AR-15, civilian version of the M-16 rifle, is the number of rounds it can shoot with one pull of the trigger. Some machine guns use the same caliber round although most of the older ones use either the old NATO round, 7.62 or a larger round. I bring this up because no one is complaining about the machine gun law but try to restrict the usage of an almost equally lethal weapon and the push back is enormous. It makes no sense.
I do not think that a complete ban on assault weapons is necessary but I do think that any person desiring to own one should have to jump through a series of hoops prior to being allowed to purchase one. Getting such a gun should require legalities akin to gaining a security clearance and in turn, many will find themselves turned away, but for just cause.
I like guns and am an expert marksman. But it is difficult for me to understand why any responsible gun owner and prospective purchaser would object to more strict rules for ownership than now exist. These rules would never keep the responsible owner from purchasing a gun but it would certainly curb the illegal sales of guns and illegal ownership.