In many parts of the world, only the government is allowed to have guns. Thanks to the Second Amendment, that’s not true in the United States. The Founding Fathers knew that disarming the people was the best way to control them – so they didn’t. They recognized life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the inalienable rights of everyone. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to limit the government’s ability to interfere with those rights – and it is the Second Amendment that keeps people armed and able to protect their own lives and liberty.
James Madison, the man who wrote the Bill of Rights, was very proud that most Americans owned guns and learned to shoot at an early age. He pointed out in The Federalist Papers No. 46 that an armed citizenry was not the norm in Europe, where “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
George Mason heavily influenced Madison’s writings, and he shared a belief that was common amongst the Founders and Framers. “To disarm the people … is the most effectual way to enslave them,” Mason said during the debate over the Constitution. The scary part is that he was describing advice given to the British Parliament!
Letters and speeches from James Madison, George Mason, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, and many more show that the United States couldn’t have won freedom without people owning guns. It is also clear they believed the right to keep and bear arms was all that stood between a free people and tyranny.
Madison wrote a few versions, but the Second Amendment that Congress accepted and ratified states:
“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.”
In Colonial America and the early United States, most men owned firearms and knew how to use them. All of these men together made up the Militia referenced in the Second Amendment. For most of the nation’s history, it was considered – as Jefferson put it – “their right and duty to be at all times armed.”
Often today, we think of the Second Amendment as protecting the right to armed self-defense against personal violence, or even the right to hunt and shoot for sport. But that isn’t the end of it. It also refers to the body of armed Americans as a whole – who have both the right and the duty to defend against tyranny.
So how is the “Militia” doing today? In October of 2019, polls showed that 30% of Americans claimed to own a gun – that’s about 99.3 million people.
Some of the early American leaders believed the rights declared by the Bill of Rights were so obvious that there was no point in amending the Constitution to specifically state them. Madison and his supporters believed otherwise – that eventually, the government would try to disarm the people. American legislators began proving them correct in 1934.