What is the US Constitutional Bill of Rights?
The United States Bill of Rights are the first 10 Amendments to the original U.S. Constitution. Written documents established to protect individual freedoms were not a new concept at the time and the Bill of Rights got its inspiration from the Bill of Rights enacted in England almost 100 years earlier. This document looks to define the natural human rights of its country’s citizens while protecting them against state abuses. James Madison wrote the original draft and, as of December of 1791, they were officially part of the Constitution. Of these first additions to the Constitution, one which has been particularly controversial in modern-day interpretation is the 2nd Amendment.
What is the 2nd Amendment?
The 2nd Amendment, in a very broad and literal translation, is the right of the people to keep and bear weapons. However, other words within that amendment have led to disagreements in regard to exactly what the authors meant. The sentence also mentions a well-organized militia, a group of armed individuals, as a necessary tool for the security of the states. Herein lies the problem and root of present-day interpretations. When analyzing the 2nd Amendment, the history of the US and its independence is important to keep in mind.
Why Was It Appended to the US Constitution?
To consider why this amendment was included in the Constitution, it is first necessary to consider the environment of the United States at the time of its independence. There was no military such as that which exists in the United States today, the country had just fought a war, and the government had the intention of moving westward. After independence, every white male between the age of 18 and 45 was mandated to be enrolled in their state’s militia. This was the way Congress intended to staff, organize, and discipline the militia that it had been granted the power to create in the First Article of the U.S. Constitution. The 2nd Amendment was included to ensure that the federal government would not infringe upon the right of people to have weapons to form their state’s militia. The principle purpose of these militias was to protect the communities against attacks or raids, keeping the power of internal military affairs in the hands of civilians.
Since that time, of course, the reality within the country has changed. The government realized that civilian-formed militias were not adequately prepared nor equipped to carry out matters of national security. The organization of militias for large-scale defense went from the hands of the states to the federal government. Civilians are no longer expected to use their weapons for militia duty.
As previously mentioned, the controversy seems to stem from the use of the words “well-regulated militia”. Some interpretations claim that the right to bear arms is not for the individual alone but rather for an individual member of a state militia. Given that the majority of military power has since been controlled by the federal government, these individuals suggest that present-day Army National Guard and Air National Guard have taken the place of the state militias of days gone by. This is because states are required to have these two military branches.
Other individuals believe that the 2nd Amendment ensures the rights of private individuals to keep and use weapons. They believe this proffers individuals the legal protection to have weapons within their household should they need to protect themselves against criminal activity. Others extend this right to hunting for food or recreational purposes.
Interpreting something that was written over 200 years ago is not an exact science. On the same note, the reality in which it was written is not the same reality of the country today. Controversy over the true meaning of the 2nd Amendment is not likely to end any time soon.