What the Second Amendment Really Meant to the Founders

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What the Second Amendment Really Meant to the Founders

These days, people love to debate the Second Amendment and give you their opinion about what it means for modern American gun owners. There are people on both sides of the aisle who have some pretty strange ideas about what the founding fathers intended when they drafted that historical document.

In reality, these opinions are usually bunk. People love to put their own ideas and prejudices on the Second Amendment without looking at the historical context surrounding it. In this breakdown, we’ll determine what the Second Amendment really meant to the founders and why it shows that Americans’ gun rights should never be infringed under any circumstances.

Background: The American Revolution

To fully grasp what the Second Amendment meant to our founders, we first have to establish some backstory.

The founding fathers drafted the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which itself contains the Second Amendment, in the wake of the American Revolutionary War. Remember, this was no “average” revolution. In fact, nothing like the United States revolution had happened before in the history of the world.

America had won its independence from Great Britain at a great cost. While George Washington led the Continental Army to ultimate success, British forces were hounded consistently by militia forces that sprang up throughout the original 13 colonies. These militia units were undoubtedly a big help to the main fighting forces as they disrupted supply lines and refocused British attention.

Furthermore, the American citizenry had just been under the thumb of an imperialist empire whose soldiers would force people to quarter them (house them), give them supplies, and more. To say that the American people immediately after the Revolutionary War were not in favor of a strong federal government was an understatement.

Nonetheless, two political parties quickly formed, even as George Washington pleaded with people not to take sides. These parties were called the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, respectively.

The Federalists thought it would be wise to have a strong federal government and weaker state governments. The Anti-Federalists believed the opposite. However, both sides understood that a well-armed militia was something necessary for the new country.

The Need for a Well-Armed Militia

Even though America had won the Revolutionary War, it did so only with the help of the armed forces from France, as well as due to the bungling of strategic decisions by British commanders. It did not win the war thanks to its strength of arms.

Furthermore, George Washington and other national leaders knew that it would be sometime before the budding federal government had enough power to scrape together a real army. In the interim, they knew that it would be wise for each state to be able to field its own well-armed militia.

A militia is essentially a volunteer army of civilians. In early America, this was a feasible idea because most adults outside of cities owned firearms for their own protection, both from criminals and from wild animals. So many people in America were armed relative to the average citizens in other developed countries at the time.

When the Bill of Rights was being discussed, and the Federalists and Anti-Federalists argued about the merits of in-state militias, both agreed that well-armed militias were good ideas for America's national security at the very least.

The thought was that if Britain came back and tried to invade America, it would face not only whatever official Army the federal government had conscripted but also regular citizens with guns.

The Fear of Centralized Government

Furthermore, Americans at the time were very wary of centralized government having too much power. After all, it was what had gotten them into the Revolutionary War in the first place!

To that end, many Americans of the time, especially the Anti-Federalists (which included Thomas Jefferson), believed that military power should be distributed among the states rather than centralized. One of the best ways to guarantee this was to make sure that the right of citizens to bear and keep arms was never infringed.

It was thought that if the new American government ever overstepped its reach, its citizens could simply revolt again and replace any corrupt leaders with honest ones. This line of thinking has even persisted to the present day – America’s huge population of gun owners is effectively a martial check on corrupt leadership to some extent. 

The Second Amendment’s Purpose to the Founding Fathers

The Bill of Rights was established when many of the founding fathers pointed out that the Constitution itself did nothing to guarantee the rights of the individual. Instead, the Constitution focused more on assigning powers to the new federal government.

The Bill of Rights was drafted to outline major rights for individual citizens. The Second Amendment was formed in order to give citizens the right to bear and keep arms, though its wording has led to a lot of confusion over time.

To the founding fathers, the Second Amendment had two purposes:

  • It would allow citizens to form their own militia groups if America was ever invaded again.

  • It would prevent the federal government from overreaching and imposing tyranny on the American people.

This being said, readers of the actual wording of the amendment will note that the Second Amendment has two major aspects. It explicitly states that individuals have the right to keep and bear arms but also that they have the right to form well-regulated militias.

“Well-regulated” is an important part of the amendment, although modern liberals have tried to twist its meaning from time to time. The Second Amendment, to the founding fathers, essentially meant that responsible adults who were part of local state militias could keep and bear arms for their personal safety and for political reasons.

In practice, this meant that anyone in America could own a firearm so long as they weren’t in prison or underage. The founding fathers knew that they would never succeed in trying to take this right away from citizens that had just revolted against a colonizing Empire.

Modern Interpretations and Complications

In the modern era, the discussion about gun control and what firearm rights Americans actually have has continued to rage. 

What Does the 2nd Amendment Really Mean?

On one side, you have the conservatives, who support liberty and believe that there should be very few restrictions on the types of guns American citizens can own.

On the other side, you have the liberals. They believe that gun-control should be more strict and that firearm ownership should be limited to law enforcement personnel or individuals who have gone through extremely thorough background checks.

Some modern liberals are now attempting to reframe history and claim that the founding fathers did not intend for individual citizens to own firearms.

This is patently false to anyone who understands the historical context surrounding the Second Amendment.

What the Founding Fathers Meant

The founding fathers knew that the Second Amendment would allow any adult to own a firearm. They welcomed this because it served as a check against federal overreach and as a defensive measure in case the young country were to be invaded shortly after its founding.

These were both real concerns during the time of the founding fathers and are fears that every nation still has; however, you have to remember that America has not been invaded since World War II during the battle of Pearl Harbor. We’ve had unprecedented peace and prosperity and seen that peaceful transfers of power are the norm.

Therefore, the modern argument that the founding fathers “didn’t intend” for individuals to own firearms doesn’t really hold water. 

Summary

As anyone with some historical knowledge can tell you, the Second Amendment really meant multiple things to the founding fathers. But don’t let anyone convince you that the founding fathers didn’t mean for you to own a gun in the modern day.

In fact, the founding fathers would likely be astounded that anyone would make such an argument. Even in the wake of civil tragedies, our rights should not be taken away because of a few bad actors.

Remember this fact if anyone tries to convince you otherwise and bring up the historical context the founding fathers drafted the Second Amendment in. It may help you win the argument! In the meantime, don’t hesitate to show your support for gun rights by checking out our store’s extensive collection of apparel, flags, and more.

 

Sources

What does the Second Amendment mean? | AEI

Interpretation: The Second Amendment | The National Constitution Center

Second Amendment | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

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