As someone who supports stronger gun control laws, I’m appalled by the sloppy and ill-informed arguments of most people who agree with me on this, especially as it relates to the Second Amendment to the Constitution. I know that courts have weighed in with different opinions on this subject over the years, but the history behind the amendment and its plain language make it clear beyond question that it confers on (or rather preserves) the right of individual American citizens to keep and bear arms.
It reads as follows — “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 of all, in Colonial America and during the time the Constitution was being written and debated, the “militia” referred to all able-bodied men in the country not serving in the armed forces. It was not a standing organization of any kind but the pool of citizens from whom a military force could be drafted to meet various emergencies.
George Mason, one of the the driving forces behind the Bill Of Rights, stated that the “militia” constituted “the whole people”. Seeking to assuage the fears of some about the potential power of a standing army, James Madison said that such an army, if it got out of bounds, “would be opposed [by] a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands” — in other words the entire free male population of the new republic.
Second of all, each of the other nine amendments constituting the Bill Of Rights guarantees a right to individual citizens, not to states, and in the rest of the Constitution, “the people” refers only to individual citizens, not to states. You have to read the Second Amendment as peculiarly anomalous to see it as guaranteeing a right to the states, the right to form state militias, and not to individual citizens.
If people want to infringe the right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms, they must support a new amendment to the Constitution explicitly revoking the Second Amendment. That might or might not be a good idea, but its goal can’t be accomplished simply by misreading the Constitution.