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"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." The 2nd amendment of the Bill Of Rights
This is the only statement in the U S Constitution about guns. Neither Federal, State, nor local laws overwrite it. The militia isn't defined here, it's use was originally defined in the 1st session of Congress, Chapter 28, Section 1, also known as the Militia Act Of May 2, 1792, and membership defined in Chapter 33, Section 1, also known as the Militia Act Of May 8, 1792. The militia is currently composed of:
"every able-bodied male citizen of the respective States, Territories, and the District of Columbia, and every able-bodied male of foreign birth who has declared his intention to become a citizen, who is more than eighteen and less than forty-five years of age" The Militia Act of 1903, Section 1, also known as the "Dick Act", named after Senator Charles W. F. Dick.
Here's how some of the founders felt:
"What is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them." George Mason
"The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that's good." George Washington
"A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the best most natural defense of a free country." And "The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." James Madison
"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." Thomas Jefferson
A common argument from gun control advocates is that a "well regulated militia" includes gun control. I agree. But it doesn't mean infringing on the "right of the people to keep and bear arms". The Constitution specifically protects that right. Regulation is spelled out in the Militia Act of May 8, 1792. Contrary to the beliefs of gun control advocates, the Act required militia members to be armed (with a sufficient bayonet - a military component), and defined how they were to be "armed and accoutred". They were also required to appear properly armed when "called out to excercise or into service". The Militia Act of 1903 reiterated the definition of the militia, with the main difference being that the Act of 1792 stated "every free able-bodied white male citizen", while the Act of 1903 stated "every able-bodied male citizen". Read more »
Here is a downloadable document from the U S House Of Representatives, which cites the statutes and revisions that define the militia today, including "female citizens of the United States who are commissioned officers of the National Guard", and former military men up to 64 years old. Federal Statutes also specify the "Organized Militia", versus using the more general term of "Militia", when defining the law.
Here are some other common arguments in favor of gun control:
- The courts have already decided that laws restricting ownership of automatic weapons, etc, are Constitutional, therefore the argument is settled.
- Has every court in the U S made or agreed with this decision? No. The Bill of Rights, later Amendments, and the Constitution apply equally across all levels of government, in all states, and to all Americans. The judiciary of one state doesn't take precedence over that of another. The same applies to Federal Court Districts.
- The courts have been wrong before. Previous opinions have been over-turned by later courts.
- Ultimately, and most importantly, the 2nd Amendment still says "shall not be infringed". A court's decision does not change that.
- Legal precedence has determined gun ownership can be restricted.
- Legal precedence is not mentioned in the U S Constitution. Only Congress or the state legislatures can create law. Although we've learned to accept the decisions of the courts, they can not make law. If there is no law addressing the issue, it's a matter for Congress or the Legislatures, not the courts.
"All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." - Article 1, Section 1, U S Constitution
- Common sense dictates we must do something to protect the people.
- Common sense doesn't overwrite the U S Constitution. We were given Article 5 to amend it.
- We can't have unlimited gun ownership, there must be reasonable restrictions.
- I agree. As written, the 2nd Amendment allows unrestricted ownership of all arms. Amend it.
- We can't allow violent felons to own guns.
- Once again, I agree. Amend the U S Constitution.
Let's clarify one more issue. Gun control advocates like to state "the government isn't coming to take your guns". Well, banning only assault rifles, or only concealed carry, is taking some of our guns. Slowly restricting gun ownership over a long period of time, is restricting gun ownership. This is not a complex argument that only Constitutional scholars can understand. We can make any changes we want – restrict gun ownership for felons, require background checks – anything. The only way to change "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" is to amend the U S Constitution according to Article 5.