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
Background of the 2nd Amendment
To teach the second amendment requires a bit of history. The United States law code is based heavily on English law since the bulk of Americans at the time of the Constitution’s writing were originally from England, were ruled by England, and lived under English law. The right to bear arms, or in modern language, the right to own and carry a weapon, including guns, goes back to English rights, first written down in the English Bill of Rights in 1698. Just prior to the English Bill of Rights being written and accepted as law there had been a power struggle between Catholics and Protestants and between the power of the monarch (or government) and the rights of the people. James II had tried to disarm the populace during all the trouble. But the English people claimed ancient rights, permanent rights, rights that could be neither granted nor rescinded by government. The English people and their rights prevailed and the American colonists inherited this sense of natural rights as pertaining to arms.
Further, the American colonists had just fought an eight-year-long miserable and costly war to secure their natural rights from an English monarch who once again had tried to deprive them of their arms. The American founders understood the threat of an armed populace to government and they saw it as a check on government. Even more importantly the founders recognized the natural right to life and the corresponding right to protect one’s life and property against assault. That protection requires arms.
You can read more about the role of the Revolutionary War and King George in the adoption of the 2nd amendment here.
What the 2nd Amendment Means
Back to the actual words in the second amendment:
militia: males between approximately sixteen and sixty were all required to be members of the militia in their communities. Virtually everyone owned and used guns. The few who didn’t were required to pay a fee in lieu of their military service to the community. The militia defended against Indian raids and insurrections, served as a police force when needed, and could be called upon for the defense of their state or of the United States when needed.
free State: you can’t be free if you are powerless.
bear arms: arms are weapons. The word doesn’t mean only guns, but it certainly includes guns, nor are specific types or categories of weapons listed. To bear means to physically carry. You can have arms on your person as well as in your home.
shall not be infringed: notice that the document does not pretend to grant the right to bear arms, nor do any of the other rights listed in the Bill of Rights. Each of these rights are seen as natural or God-given rights. The second amendment merely reminds government, in ink, that they may not infringe on this right the people inherently posses.
Putting the 2nd Amendment To Use
In today’s world fewer and fewer people actually own and use their own guns. What we don’t understand we fear. Discuss the right of the people to bear arms, why that right exists (to protect life and property), and some of the ways and reasons that the government tries to deprive the people of their arms. Talk about the responsibility of all citizens in the defense of our nation. We don’t all serve in the military or the police force, but we nevertheless have a responsibility for the security of our communities. How can you be a part of that security? How can you make your family and your neighborhood safer?
Then teach your kids about guns. You can start with BB guns in your backyard. Every time they go to shoot guns go back over the rules of respect. If you don’t know, then find someone who does. Then have them take a gun safety course from a certified instructor or take them out on a gun range with someone knowledgeable. Even a three-year-old should understand and respect guns and older kids should learn to load and fire a weapon. Gun safety isn’t just for people who own guns, it’s for everyone.
- Like everything in the Constitution, Second Amendment rights are politically charged. Read arguments for and against the right to bear arms. Decide for yourself what you believe.
- The Second Amendment often hits the news. Watch for it and discuss the news with your kids.
- Where I live, in Idaho, hunting is a big deal. Many people I know hunt venison and other big game to aid in feeding their families. Others kill predators to protect their farm animals. Both of these activities associated with guns are controversial too. What do you think and, more importantly, why? Discuss it with your kids.
- Ironically, England, the land which taught us our right to bear arms has banned guns. Even their police have no firearms, except under special circumstances. Of course criminals still have weapons. Recently when England was experiencing riots baseball bat sales went through the roof.
- What is the difference between a “right” granted by government and an inherent “Right” which can neither be granted nor rescinded?
- Some people argue that people should be allowed to have any arms, even missiles and so forth if they can afford them. Most people agree that some sort of regulation in use and possession of arms is warranted. But then of course we have to argue over the specifics ad infinitem. It’s a debate that will never end.
- Read quotes from the founders themselves about guns, laws regarding them, and the Second Amendment.