We all think we know what the Second Amendment says but do we, really?
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.
It seems simple enough yet there seems to be no end of debate over what it means, exactly. Here’s our take on it. There are three parts to this sentence– the justification (A), the right itself( B), and the limitation on the federal government over that right (C).
A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, (A) the right of the people to keep and bear Arms (B) shall not be infringed (C).
(A) First comes the justification or preface to the right: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”. Here the authors of the amendment are describing one of the reasons why the right is necessary. They are not imposing a limitation on the right, nor stating that this is the only reason why the right exists. They are merely putting some introductory text prior to stating the right itself. This phrase has given opponents of gun control an opportunity to try to impose limitations where none exist, but if the authors had intended this to be a right limited to the militia, they would have added to the end of the Amendment, not to the preface. (For instance, if that were the intent it might have been phrased more like “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, while they are serving in a well-regulated militia” or “the right of the people who are serving in a well-regulated militia to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. “ But that’s not how they wrote it, is it?
(B) Next comes a definition of the right: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”. Here the right is clearly defined as the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Other amendments clarify other rights, such as the right of the people peaceably to assemble, which is defined in the first amendment. In the Second Amendment, the right which is being clarified is the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Simple.
(C) Finally, the Second Amendment places a limitation on the federal government’s power over this specific right. It states this limitation as “shall not be infringed”. That’s pretty clear. When the states created the federal government it granted specific enumerated powers, and stated that all powers not granted to the federal government were reserved to the states or to the people. But just to be EXTRA SURE, the Bill of Rights to Constitution specifically places additional limitations on the federal government. The Second Amendment states that as far as the federal government is concerned it has no power to infringe upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
It is very hard to interpret this any other way, yet gun control advocates will go through any number of mental contortions to try to say that it means something other than what it clear means. If we can keep it simple, it makes it much harder to dispute.