The Second of our Bill of Rights reads, “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.” Some understanding of the Founding Father’s lexicon is called for to gain a full appreciation for this American birthright, better known as The Second Amendment.
In 2008, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision after reviewing the challenge to a set of gun control laws in the District of Columbia. I greatly appreciate this ruling and most of the accompanying majority opinion, known as District of Columbia versus Heller. This opinion provides a rich resource for understanding the 18th Century intent of the Second Amendment and how it is holding up to 21st Century challenges. For the full opinion of the court, see http://www.nraila.org/media/PDFs/HellerOpinion.pdf.
Justice Antonin Scalia authored the five-to-four majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas and Alito. The Heller opinion wisely explored the original meanings of the anachronistic terms: “... the most natural reading of ‘keep Arms’ in the Second Amendment is to ‘have weapons.’” Also,“At the time of the founding, as now, to ‘bear’ meant to ‘carry.’”
While the opinion did not attempt to clarify the word “infringe,” Merriam-Webster defines it as meaning to encroach upon, defeat or frustrate. A modern restating of the second half of this amendment to the United States Constitution might be, “the right of people to have and carry weapons shall not be encroached upon.”
Gun control advocates frequently emphasize the first half of the Second Amendment in an attempt to get a foothold for their intentions. By interpreting “A well regulated Militia, being necessary” as a conditional statement, such apologists argue that citizens only have a constitutionally guaranteed right to possess a weapon if they are a member of the military (which is their interpretation of the term militia). The District of Columbia, in defense of its strict gun control laws being challenged, specifically argued that the Second Amendment right to bear arms only applies to a militia context. This contention was neatly settled by the Heller decision: