The Second Amendment was passed along with nine others that together became known as the Bill of Rights in 1791. There was a huge concern that without written rights, the national government would obtain too much power and become oppressive. Mindful of British tyranny, colonists wanted to ensure that citizens could protect themselves from any injustice.
“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 Second Amendment was drafted to protect state militias, which were made up of ordinary citizens who provided their own weapons. The Amendment ensured these militias remained armed and ready to fight a foreign power or tyrannical government. However, a lot has changed since its passage. State militias have since been absorbed into the larger and more powerful national military. The national armed forces’ incredible budget grants them weaponry far beyond what one person can acquire. As such, it’s hard to believe rag-tag citizens could overpower the federal military in a gunfight.
Today, the Second Amendment is interpreted to protect private individuals’ right to possess arms for defense, not as the right of states to maintain armed militias. This interpretation is relatively new. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the Supreme Court adopted this opinion.
Major Court Cases
The Supreme Court first ruled on the Second Amendment in 1876 in United States v. Cruikshank. Motivated to excuse the murder of an estimated hundred black men by white insurgents, the Court declared the First and Second Amendments limited only the federal government’s actions, not the actions of individuals. The ruling established that while the Second Amendment prohibits Congress from infringing on an individual’s right to bear arms, it left protecting that right a matter for the states to take up.
Two court cases from the early 2000s played a major role in further defining the Second Amendment. The Court dismantled handgun bans in their rulings of McDonald v. Chicago and District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Both cases indicated that the Amendment would, from then on, grant individuals the right to bear arms at all levels of government. In the McDonald case, justices used the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause to apply the Second Amendment to states, thus overturning the Cruickshank ruling. Together, these two cases expanded the right to bear arms across the nation, inciting rampant controversy over gun control.
Today, the Second Amendment is one of the most debated passages in the Constitution. Many Americans support the modern interpretation of the individual’s right to bear arms. The right to defend themselves and their property is considered fundamental. After all, the Supreme Court has provided legal backing for this expanded view.
However, many Americans oppose the new interpretation of the Second Amendment and are demanding its review. Modern firearms are far more deadly than those from 1791. The United States faces an extremely high threat of gun violence, especially for a developed country. The recurrence of mass shootings like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Columbine High School, Pulse Nightclub, Parkland, and countless others fuel the growing movement for re-examining the Second Amendment.
You may be asking how the Second Amendment came from relative insignificance to dominating the modern political climate. The answer is the massive influence of the National Rifle Association, or the NRA. What began as a gun education group grew during the 1990s into a voting block that financially supports candidates aligned with their pro-gun agenda. In 2016, they spent a record $412 million dollars on political donations. The NRA not only supports the Second Amendment but also halts research into the effects of gun violence and pushes legislation that lets gun manufacturers and vendors off the hook for legal troubles. Anyone advocating for stricter gun control contends against an incredibly strong lobbying force.
Few other passages of the Constitution deal with life and death quite as literally as the Second Amendment. The decision of whether or not an individual should have the power of a firearm is immense. Whether that power should be a guaranteed right of all citizens is an even larger dilemma. Those that support the Second Amendment do so because they feel it provides an effective means of self-defense. Those that oppose the Second Amendment argue firearms themselves disrupt the peace and threaten the security of innocent people. Both sides are fighting for their safety, a fundamental right in a democratic society. Today, more than half of Americans feel that the country needs stricter gun control laws. If you want to see changes, make your voice heard to your state and federal representatives and take action.