OK, time to lose the whistling-past-the-graveyard and "Heavens, we can't actually DO anything!" crowds...
"A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves."
-Edward R. Murrow
A Few Words About The Second Amendment
"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."
-United States Constitution
LET'S BEGIN WITH THE PLAIN AND STRAIGHTFORWARD expressions of those who wrote and adopted the amendment, along with observations from a few other specialists:
"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in Government."
"The Constitution shall never be construed... to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms."
"Americans have the right and advantage of being armed—unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms."
"God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it."
The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.
-Federal appellate Judge Alex Kozinski in the case of Silveira vs. Lockyer, 312 F.3d 1052 (9th Cir. 2002).
NOW LET'S ANALYZE the amendment (and arguments intended to eviscerate it) logically:
As plain and straightforward as the Second Amendment is, and despite the helpful expressions of the incontrovertible authorities quoted above, strenuous efforts are made by its enemies to evade the Amendment's purposes and provisions. These efforts focus, in practice, on distorting the meaning of two elements of the wording of the Amendment: the terms "militia" and "well regulated". A few observations about these terms are therefore appropriate here, and should suffice to deal with these corrupt efforts.
The more overtly targeted of the two terms is "militia". The efforts against it involve attempting to morph the general understanding of the word "militia" into meaning nothing more than "National Guard" (or its functional equivalent), as though a military organization of, and subordinate to, a state government provides against the need to put down a federal government gone awry-- a purpose of the Second Amendment which its enemies realize is still vaguely understood by the American people as a whole.
At the very same time, of course, those who argue the "militia means National Guard" notion also contend that the state governments are generally subordinate to the federal government, and particularly maintain that any state government that deployed military power against the federal government would be acting unconstitutionally (or improperly under some other label); and indeed, what other position could the federal government itself take, rightly or wrongly, under such circumstances? Thus, the "militia means National Guard" notion is plainly a deliberate intellectual ploy intended to bleed energy from general comprehension of the true meaning of the Second Amendment. (The recent federal acts claiming presidential authority to commandeer the National Guard, such as in the 'John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007', dramatically emphasize this point.)
This ploy also seeks to exploit general ignorance of the legal nature of the several states themselves-- a subject rarely addressed in the American dialogue. Doing real justice to the subject is beyond the needs of this discussion; it will suffice to observe that the state governments themselves are no more than constructs erected at, and for, the convenience of the individual sovereign people residing within the borders of each, and against which the people's authority to act militarily is self-evidently incapable of lawful compromise. That is, we the people have an absolute right to alter, abolish, or put down by force if necessary any and all government.
Thus, while the Second Amendment may be properly viewed as providing-- in part-- for the exercise of state military power against the federal government, it invokes, and partakes of, the same sovereign authority of the people to act in like manner against their state governments. As such, the militia cannot be an organ of the state government or, if the term "militia" were held to mean such an organ, an unnamed and still more fundamental and inherently superior military liberty-- incapable of lawful compromise or oversight by any governmental authority, and obviously including the right of the people to keep and bear arms-- is necessarily implied.
In fact, the term "militia", properly understood, has two Constitutional meanings, depending on context. One of those meanings is the body of Americans not part of the federal armed forces, but of "military age" and capacity, and available for deployment by the federal government in times of need as an auxiliary force. Specific federal Constitutional provisions are made in regard to this form of militia.
For example, in Article 1, Section 8, Congress is given authority to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia. Plainly, if "militia" in the Second Amendment meant nothing more than is comprehended by this first definition, the Amendment itself would be entirely superfluous. (See 'Gun Control And The Federal Government' in 'Upholding the Law And Other Observations' for an in-depth discussion of this point, and of the relevant body of judicial doctrine-- including the uniquely aberrant Miller decision.)
The other meaning of the term, and the one obviously used in the Second Amendment, is simply, "the whole people"-- by which is necessarily meant "the people" as discrete individuals, of course. Groups don't have rights, so the right recognized by the amendment must be an individual right.
IN ADDITION TO ATTEMPTING to foster and exploit general confusion about the term "militia", those who fear and seek to evade the Second Amendment rely upon a broad and deeply-entrenched misunderstanding of the term "regulate". A very brief discussion will serve to correct this misunderstanding and clarify the use of the phrase "well regulated" in the amendment:
We in our heavily bureaucratized modern America tend to think of the word "regulate" as meaning "to issue and enforce governmental rules about something". However, this is neither the general definition nor the historic usage of this term.
1. To adjust by rule,
method or established mode; as, to regulate weights and measures; to
regulate the assize of bread; to regulate our moral conduct by the
laws of God and of society; to regulate our manners by the customary
Webster's Dictionary Of The English Language, 1828 Edition
1. to control or direct by a rule, principle, method, etc.
2. to adjust to some standard or requirement, as for amount, degree, etc.
3. to adjust so as to ensure accuracy of operation.
4. to put in good order.
Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition (1975)
As can be readily seen by the definitions given above-- one from close to the time of the adoption of the Second Amendment, and one from our own time, the general meaning of "regulate" is "to put or maintain in good working order", in accordance with a rule, principle or established mode. The synonym of "regulate"-- "regularize"-- illuminates this meaning: "To bring into conformity with rules or principles or usage."
This is precisely the meaning of "a well regulated militia" in the Second Amendment: "the whole people, equipped and in good order for the exercise and enforcement of their sovereignty, by right and in conformity with the principles under which their servant governments have been created" To put it another way, the means by which the militia referred to in the Second Amendment is "well regulated" is by prohibiting the government from infringing upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
P. S. We still have the ballot (it would appear), and that's the proper place to rest our faith, for now. But the prudent man looks around and looks ahead, with open eyes and a jealous regard for his liberties. In fact, it is just that jealous regard, and the preparation it inspires, that generally spares a free people the turmoil for which the Second Amendment is provided. Call it an expressions of the "peace through strength" principle.
"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
To learn how the United States Supreme Court has, with near perfect consistency, upheld every word and sentiment expressed above, and the simple legal sleight-of-hand by which Congress has beguiled the ignorant into believing otherwise in regard to all federal gun laws, see 'Gun Control And The Federal Government' in
BY THE WAY, AUTHORITY OVER the power of direct (involuntary) taxation is also denied the federal government, in an acknowledgement of individual sovereignty from the same vein as that from which the Second Amendment springs. Just as the government created by the Constitution is expressly prohibited from any effort or initiative to disarm the people, or, implicitly, to compel them to use their arms in its service, it is prohibited from seizing their property, or compelling them to relinquish property against their will.
And no surprise, of course. Is it conceivable that the same Framers who pointedly ensured that the citizenry retained the means to shoot their rogue governors would have stuck at ensuring the power of the citizenry to simply withhold money from those same governors? Or is it conceivable that the same Framers who provided the Second Amendment would simultaneously allow, to the very government against which that Amendment stands, the power to forcibly take from the people the means by which they put food in their stomachs, or bullets in their guns? The questions answer themselves.
“Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not.”