Backstory: The Second Amendment

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The shooting in Arizona that resulted in the death of 6 people and the injury of 14 others, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, has prompted a new round of soul-searching about one of the most contentious topics in American politics: gun-control. Both Representative Peter King (R-NY) and Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) have announced intentions to introduce new gun control legislation in Congress, but many the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby maintains that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Bill of Rights and should not to be changed. Harvard University History Professor and New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore explains that the 2nd amendment was not always interpreted as the right to bear arms in the literal sense. She'll trace the history of this contentious amendment through its drafting to the present--and, along the way, will explain how the right to bear arms is inextricably linked with the unique way in which murders have been carried out on American soil.


Jill Lepore

Comments [15]

elan decave from The Cave

What part of Well Regulated Militia explains Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech., or any of the dozens of school massacre using military weapons or explosives. Is this the part of our National Guard heritage that we need to embrace. Is there a well regulated militia standard other than the one weapon lobbyists would have us believe? Is the NRA the standard of a well regulated militia? And why do you keep saying Well Armed? I feel like there is nobody in this country who is willing to clearly define national defense. Maybe somebody should establish a Department of Defense and make it a federal agency that is controlled by the citizens through a representative type of governmental structure. We should ask the French or Indians if they might know of one.

Apr. 05 2013 01:54 PM

In 1775 the armed bodies were:
- The Military - An army of paid troops, organized by the King.
- The Organized Militia, also known as the King's Militia or the Select Militia, organized by the King.
- The Unorganized Militia, also known as the Citizens Militia or Well-Regulated Militia (well-regulated meaning trained or well adjusted. eg. a well regulated clock). The well regulated militia were all males of military age who are not serving in any force of the organized militia or the military. They were not the King's militia. The Huntington Militia was established in 1653 as an unorganized or well regulated militia of Huntington's citizens. Machiavelli and the founders regarded the Well-Regulated Militia as the citizens' protection against a king or democratically elected ruler who became a tyrant, or against foreign invaders. Historically, popular kings tended to favor such militia as allies. Tyrants tended to try to disarm them.

Jan. 14 2011 09:44 AM
lawrence Ordine from nyc

I have come to agree that americans have the right to protect themselves, homes and family with firearms. for this purpose the vast majority of security experts reccomend a shot gun for it's ability to stop an intruder even when used by an inexperienced, sleepy or frightened housewife. This right should not be extended to concealable handguns able to fire 31 shots in semi-auto mode.

Jan. 13 2011 06:31 PM
ChasNJ from Nutley, NJ

Great discussion. If the "originalist" interpretation is to be used, it should go all the way back to the original weapons the founders knew in the 18th century -- Muskets and single-shot rifles and pistols. Why do we let originalists get away with allowing 21st century weapons into the 2nd amendment?

Jan. 13 2011 05:19 PM

Micheal from Manhattan has a convincing argument. I too suspect the clause was put first to prove their point, albeit clumsy English.

But I must admit in the depths of the Bush administration I thought maybe taking up arms against one's own government was not such a bad idea. I started to appreciate this amendment during Bush II.

Jan. 13 2011 02:12 PM
Micheal from Manhattan

The wording of the amendment says it all. it s NOT a free pass for ordinary citizens to control and use assault weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The "clumsiness" of the wording actually speaks to the reservations on the part of the founders that these activities be REGULATED and SUBJECT to GOVERNMENT regulation and legislation

Jan. 13 2011 01:49 PM
Robert Davey from Bridgeport, Conn.

I feel that Ms Lepore's comment that the 2nd Amendment's intent was for people to have the right to form militias to protect themselves against the state is not logical. The wording of the amendment surely quite clearly envisages that citizens will bear arms to form a militia to protect the state itself, not to protect themselves against the state. Thus, if a well-regulated militia (standing army) exists, as it does today, there is no longer any need for citizens to bear arms.

Jan. 13 2011 01:46 PM
Henry from Manhattan

My gun control solution:

Only women should legally own and operate guns.

Why? Because men commit the lion’s share of violent crimes and women require the self-defense justification of gun ownership to protect themselves and their family (children) from men.

As far as gun owning to overthrow tyrannical governments, with a potential of 50% of the population armed (women), this would be satisfied.

Guns don’t kill people. Men kill people.

Don’t believe me? Check the statistics.

Jan. 13 2011 01:43 PM
Chris from Huntington Militia est. 1653

There is a NY Guard that is not the National Guard. It is a volunteer militia comanded by the Governor.
"The unorganized militia shall consist of all able-bodied male residents of the state between the ages of seventeen and forty-five who are not serving in any force of the organized militia…who are…citizens…." 36 NY Consolidated Laws Art. I Military Law § 2 (2) [emphasis added]
10 US Code §311 is similar:
"(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able bodied males at least 17 years…and under 45 years of age who are…citizens….
(b) The classes of the militia are-…
(c) ...the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or Naval Militia."

Jan. 13 2011 01:42 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Remember when the NRA's main argument against gun control was put in terms of hunting...even though the 2nd Amendment mentions only "a well-regulated militia" & nothing about hunting?

Jan. 13 2011 01:40 PM
Chris from Amityville

If soldiers had been quartered in Jared Loughner's home, he couldn't have prepared his assassination in private. Isn't this a good excuse to repeal the Third Amendment as well as the First and Second Amendment? Observation of the colonists is one reason the King quartered soldiers in rebels' homes.

Jan. 13 2011 01:37 PM
Regina Weiss from Brooklyn

Even if you accept that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a right to own guns, it seems quite clear to me that there is a compelling state interest in gun control that trumps the second amendment - surely this would pass a supreme court "strict scrutiny test." Why is this never discussed?

Jan. 13 2011 01:34 PM

don't about half the states have state guards?
aren't those roughly equivalent to malitias?

Jan. 13 2011 01:32 PM

Militia Acts of 1792 were amended by the Militia Act of 1862, which allowed African-Americans to serve in the militias of the United States. They were replaced by the Militia Act of 1903, which established the United States National Guard as the chief body of organized military reserves in the United States.

Jan. 13 2011 01:28 PM

Does anyone agree that part of the problem with this amendment is the wording. There is a clunky clause preceding the heart of the meaning. I feel that it would be more understood, if the wording was re-arranged.
Sounds like a question for Patricia T. O'Connor as well.

I also feel that most "supporters" of 2nd Amendment can not recite it. They don't know the whole thing especially the initial clause.

Jan. 13 2011 01:25 PM

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