“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.” These words are what make up the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. But what do they mean?
One must go back in history to see what the founding fathers meant at the time they wrote those words. The 2nd Amendment was ratified in 1791. The war for independence was still fresh in the minds of the authors. That war began with common citizens taking up arms against the British. The first battles were not our army against the British; they were our citizens fighting against a highly trained, professional army. The writers knew that in order to keep the freedoms they fought for, we would need to that same caliber of citizens ready to take up arms against our government, just as they did the government of the colonies.
The second amendment was designed to ensure the government of the United States would forever be somewhat in fear of the citizens.
Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying: “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government”
George Mason, one of the co-authors of the amendment stated: “I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
“Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurrences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable … the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.”
In each case, the possession of arms by the citizenry, not the professional military is what was stressed. This is why we believe that the 2nd Amendment is so important. The 2nd Amendment is not about hunting, target shooting, or even personal protection (although guns are handy in all of those). It is about freedom from tyranny.
One last point. Many say the 2nd Amendment does not mention machine guns or tanks. Which is true. It does not mention any type of weapon. In fact, it does not even mention weapon. The weapons the initial citizens had were the same basic type as the British army had. Yes, that would include cannons. If we go back to the authors of the amendment, it was clear they did not want a standing army. This would mean that the 2nd Amendment would allow the possession of machine guns, grenade launchers, and yes, even tanks.