Critics of the Second Amendment often highlight the state of technology in which it was written insofar as firearms were concerned. At the time, one-shot muskets and rifles were cutting edge military weaponry for the typical soldier. The argument goes that if the founders would have been able to look into the future, they wouldn’t have wanted private citizens to own “weapons of war.”
Unless one of them happens to have a crystal ball that allows them to communicate with the dead or they have some statement from a founding father, the claim is clearly speculation that goes against all existing evidence.
However, it highlights an interesting point that’s worth examination – the historical context.
Often when we discussed things written centuries ago, we need to appreciate the historical context. Although it’s not explicitly stated in any of the amendments, it offers us further understanding of the founders’ intent they wrote what they wrote and said what they said.
For example, the Third Amendment clearly was in response to a policy that required American civilians quarter British soldiers. However, since then the issue has rarely, if ever, been brought up, so for us in the 21st century it helps to study the differences between then and now.
Here are some points to consider about the Second Amendment.
In Colonial America, everyone was in the militia
Aside from Pennsylvania (founded by pacifist Quaker William Penn) if you were a free man between certain ages, you were required to be part of your colony’s militia. That is why the “father” of the Bill of Rights, George Mason, referred to the militia as “everyone, except for a few public officials.” Membership also required you to have a working firearm and show up to musters. In certain places, if you didn’t show up to a muster with a functioning weapon, you were fined.
The situation was utterly reverse from the debate we have today about whether people can keep and bear arms, i.e. “weapons of war.” In 1775 America, outside of one colony, you didn’t have a choice about even owning a firearm. You were required by law to keep “weapons of war” and train on how to use them.
The adjective well-regulated” in the Second Amendment meant “well-trained.”
Anyone who claims that “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment is declaring government regulations are needed on guns hasn’t read the text, is a halfwit illiterate, or simply disingenuous. The prepositional phrase in the sentence is the justification for why the right to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed.”
The historical context explains why.
For militia (which included everyone) to be effective, it had to drill continually. The militia had to be disciplined enough to obey orders under the pressure and strain of gunfire and bombardment. The high level of preparation is what alarmed the British commanders