A prominent 20th-century Democrat made the following statement about the purpose of the Second Amendment: "Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. … The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard, against the tyranny which now appears remote in America but which historically has proven to be always possible."
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the 1976 Washington, DC, ban on handguns. The court ruled that the Founding Fathers wanted the Second Amendment to allow individuals the right to keep and bear arms. The minority disagreed, arguing that the right only extends to those belonging to a state "militia," such as the National Guard.
The Second Amendment 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." What did the Framers mean?
Is "Militia" -- as the Framers intended -- an arm of government? Or did the Framers define militia as something completely different -- a group of armed citizens with a right to "keep and bear Arms" to guard against unjust or tyrannical government power?
The Founding Fathers assumed that any government, including the one they established, could grow into a monster. They argued that only "the people" with a right "to keep and bear arms" could prevent such a tyranny.
James Madison, the "father of the Constitution," stated that tyrants were "afraid to trust the people with arms," and lauded "the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation."
Thomas Jefferson wrote: "What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms."
George Mason said, "To disarm the people -- that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them."
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts said: "What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty. … Whenever governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins."
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