What is the Primary Purpose of the Second Amendment?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, April 3, 2018 0 comments

by Bill Fortenberry

In the current debate over the Second Amendment, neither side has correctly understood the original purpose of the Second Amendment. The conservatives have incorrectly claimed that this guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms was established to give the people a means of resisting tyranny from our own government. Progressives have generally taken the opposite view, that the purpose was to establish state level militias which could be used to suppress rebellions and uprisings of the people. Both of these views are partially correct, but neither the conservatives nor the progressives are focusing on the primary purpose of the Second Amendment.

When James Madison introduced the Second Amendment in Congress, he did so at the request of the state level committees which had originally ratified the Constitution. As part of their ratification of the Constitution, the states of Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, and North Carolina all included a request for an amendment protecting the right to keep and bear arms. Virginia, for example, requested an amendment declaring: "That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated Militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free State."

The language proposed by the other three states was nearly identical, and this request gives us our first clue as to the reason that the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution. There is no mention in these requests of either tyranny or rebellion. Both of those threats were occasionally referenced in other discussions of the right to keep and bear arms, but neither one was even mentioned in the actual request for an amendment protecting that right. Tyranny and rebellion are both internal dangers, but the states that requested the Second Amendment were focused on the far greater danger of foreign invasion. They wanted the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms so that the entire populace could be called upon to defend the new nation in a time of war.

This purpose for the Second Amendment can also be seen in all the state level guarantees of the right to keep and bear arms. There were four states that included this right as part of their own Constitutions prior to the drafting of the Second Amendment. Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania had already established a constitutional right to keep and bear arms even before the Revolutionary War had ended. None of them mentioned tyranny or rebellion, but all four of them echoed the declaration from North Carolina that "the people have a right to bear arms, for the defence of the State."

The defense of the state was the stated goal in every single instance of a state level guarantee for the right to keep and bear arms, and it was the common thread of every single request from the ratifying committees that this right be added to the federal Constitution. The defense of the nation was the primary purpose of the Second Amendment, and the benefits of allowing the people to keep and bear their own arms became evident less than 25 years after the amendment was ratified.

When the British invaded America during the War of 1812, the American government called upon privately owned warships to fight in defense of the nation. The people responded, and hundreds of citizen warships joined the fight against the British. This civilian navy captured more than 1200 enemy ships and is often recognized as the most effective use of a privateer force in history. America was victorious in the War of 1812 because she allowed her citizens to keep and bear military grade weaponry. When America's vastly outgunned navy of 15 ships needed help defending the nation, there was a large pool of experienced citizens ready and willing to join the fight. These privateers were a perfect picture of the purpose of the Second Amendment.

The next time that you engage in a debate over the Second Amendment, point out the use of the phrase "defence of the state" and draw your opponent's attention to the example of the War of 1812. I can guarantee that the ensuing conversation will be much more productive than the typical squabbles about tyranny and rebellion.

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