Fall 2001 The Bill of Rights Sentinel
The Six Things Americans Should Know
About the Second Amendment
by Richard W. Stevens
The text of the Second Amendment:
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.
FIRST: The Second Amendment protects an individual right that existed before the creation of any government. The
Declaration of Independence made clear that all human beings are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that
governments are created to protect those rights.
A. The unalienable right to freedom from violent harm, and the right to self-defense, both exist before and outside of
1. Torah: Exodus 22:2.
2. Talmud: Jewish law set forth in the Talmud states, “If someone comes to kill you, arise quickly and kill him.”
(Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin. 1994,2, 72a; The Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth. 1990, 58a, 62b).
3. Roman Catholic Doctrine: Christian doctrine has long asserted the right and duty of self defense. “Someone who
defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.” See Catechism of the
Catholic Church 1994, sections 2263-65 (citing and quoting Thomas Aquinas).
4. Protestant Doctrine: Individual has personal and unalienable right to self-defense, even against government.
Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex 1982, pp. 159-166, 183-185 (Sprinkle Publications edition.) Jesus advised his
disciples to arm themselves in view of likely persecution. Luke 22:36.
B. John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1690) aimed at reforming Britain’s monarchy and parliamentary
system and limiting the power of government, and profoundly influenced the Founders and all Western Civilization.
John Locke explained that civil government properly exists to more effectively protect the rights that all individuals
have in the “state of nature.” The individuals have the rights to life, liberty, and property. They give civil government
the power over themselves only to the extent that it better protects those rights. Thomas Jefferson, author of the
Declaration of Independence, specifically declared that the ideas of John Locke’s Second Treatise were “generally
approved by the citizens of the United States.”Jefferson mandated that Locke’s Second Treatise be taught in
theUniversity of Virginia.
C. Christian religious thinkers, such as Samuel Rutherford (in Lex, Rex, 1644) argued that man’s rights come from G-
d. Using Biblical principles and examples, they argued against the notion that kings ruled by divine right. To be
legitimate authorities, all governments must uphold man’s rights and do justice. Otherwise, the people owe a lawless
and tyrannical ruler no allegiance at all.
D. Cicero, Rome’s leading orator, had early argued that the right to self-defense was natural and inborn, and not a
creation of the government.The right to use weapons was a necessary part of the right to self-defense — any view
to the contrary was silly nonsense. [Stephen P. Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of A
Constitutional Right (1984), p. 17, fn 76-77.]
E. The right to keep and bear arms simply implements the unalienable right to individual self-defense against
aggression of any kind. The Second Amendment refers to “the right of the people” (not the state) as a pre-existing
right that government must respect.
F. The United States Supreme Court, in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, indicated that the word “people” in the
Second Amendment referred to individuals, not to states. [494 U.S. 259 (1990)] (This was not a holding or ruling of
law, but an observation by the Court).
SECOND: The language of the Second Amendment prohibits the Federal Government from “infringing” on this right
of the people. There is nothing ambiguous about “shall not be infringed.” (See Webster’s New Universal Unabridged
Dictionary, 2d ed.1983, p. 941.) The language of the Second Amendment is about as clear as the First Amendment’
s prohibiting Congress from infringing the right to freedom of speech, press, and religious expression. There is no
logical reason to read the Second Amendment as a weak statement, while treating the First Amendment as a strong
protector of rights.
A. The Second Amendment protects a fundamental right and should be read broadly because it implements the right
of self-defense. Self-defense is the ultimate right of all individuals to preserve life. The rights to a free press, free
speech, assembly, and religion are extremely important — but none of them matters very much if you can’t defend
your own life against aggression. None of them matters very much when an evil government is fully armed and its
citizens are disarmed.
B. Article I, Section 8, clauses 15 and 16 of the U.S. Constitution refer to Congress’s powers concerning the state
militias. Clause 15 empowersCongress to “call forth” the state militias into national service for specific purposes.
Clause 16 empowers Congress to organize, arm and discipline the state militias, and to govern the militias while they
are in national service. The Second Amendment confines Congress’s power by guaranteeing that the Congress
cannot “govern” the militias right out of existence and thereby disarm “the people.”
THIRD: The Second Amendment refers to “a well-regulated militia.”The right of the people to form citizen militias was
unquestioned by the Founders.
A. The Federalist Papers, No. 28: Alexander Hamilton expressed that when a government betrays the people by
amassing too much power and becoming tyrannical, the people have no choice but to exercise their original right of
self-defense — to fight the government.[Halbrook, p. 67]
B. The Federalist Papers, No. 29: Alexander Hamilton explained that an armed citizenry was the best and only real
defense against a standing army becoming large and oppressive. [Halbrook, p. 67]
C. The Federalist Papers, No. 46: James Madison contended that ultimate authority resides in the people, and that if
the federal government got too powerful and overstepped its authority, then the people would develop plans of
resistance and resort to arms. [Halbrook, p. 67]
D. There was no National Guard, and the Founders opposed anything but a very small national military. The phrase
“well-regulated” means well-trained and disciplined — not “regulated” as we understand that term in the modern
sense of bureaucratic regulation. [This meaning still can be found in the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, 2d
ed. 1989, Vol 13, p. 524, and Vol 20. p. 138.]
E. The Federalists promised that state governments and citizen militias would exist to make sure the federal military
never became large or oppressive. To say that the National Guard replaces the notion of the militia runs contrary to
what the Founders said and wrote.
F. The Third Amendment: Expressly restrains the federal government from building a standing army and infiltrating it
among the people ...and at the people’s expense ... in times of peace. The Third Amendment runs against the idea
of a permanent standing army or federalized National Guard in principle, if not by its words.
FOURTH: The Second Amendment begins with the phrase “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of
a free State.” Some people argue that this phrase limits the right to keep and bear arms to militias only ... which they
say means the National Guard. Very recent research shows, however, that it was the style of writing legal documents
in the late 1700’s to include a preamble. The Constitution has a preamble, the Bill of Rights has a preamble — yet
people don’t argue that the Constitution is limited by the preamble. Professor Eugene Volokh at the UCLA Law
School has examined numerous other state constitutions of the same general time period, and observed this kind of
preamble language in many of them. (The Commonplace Second Amendment, 73 N.Y. Univ. Law Rev. 793-821
(1998)). The preamble states a purpose, not a limitation on the language in these government charters.