What does the Second Amendment mean?
Jan. 11, 2013
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
The school shooting in Newton, Conn., has renewed debate over gun laws in this country. At the heart of the issue is the Second Amendment, one of the most contentious parts of the U.S. Constitution. The shortest of the amendments at 27 words, it addresses the right to carry firearms.
“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.”
That one sentence, filled with vague language, has led to the evolution of two views on how to interpret laws.
The first viewpoint argues that the right to bear arms is restricted to members of militias, which were common during the time of the revolution and instrumental in maintaining law and order in many towns and villages. The argument follows that militias, not individual citizens, have the constitutionally granted freedom to carry firearms. This viewpoint puts emphasis on the “well regulated Militia” clause of the sentence, stating that the founders believed that militias, not the individual, were responsible for protecting citizens from threats to their freedom from the government.
Writing the dissent in the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia… Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms.”
The second viewpoint is much broader, and argues that the Second Amendment gives individuals, regardless of their membership in militias, the right to carry firearms. This argument puts greater emphasis on the second half of the amendment, emphasizing the clause “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.” The reference to the militia is considered a setup to the rationale for allowing every individual the right to carry weapons – that as individuals, operating independently or in a militia, are fundamental in keeping the nation free.
In the majority opinion in Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The Second Amendment is naturally divided into two parts: its prefatory clause and its operative clause. The former does not limit the latter grammatically, but rather announces a purpose. The Amendment could be rephrased, ‘Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
What do you think?
How do you interpret the Second Amendment? Do you agree with Justice John Paul Stevens’ argument or do you agree with Justice Antonin Scalia’s? How does the Second Amendment apply to the modern times? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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