Amendment II (the Second Amendment) of the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights declares a well-regulated militia as “being necessary to the security of a free State” and prohibits infringement of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” It is a controversial subject whose ramifications are still being debated to this day, over two-hundred and thirty years after it was written. Its place in the Bill of Rights as the Second Amendment is indicative of how important our nation’s founding fathers thought that right should be. It is still relevant in today’s society, despite haphazard attempts at gun control. This is evidenced by other countries’ takes on gun control, regulation, or lack of it.
Our right to keep and bear arms stems from the English Bill of Rights, which states: “The subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” (Volokh, 2)
Many of the original thirteen states included in their constitutions or in their state ratification conventions provisions or language that upholds a citizen’s right to bear arms to defend oneself and the state. For instance, Pennsylvania’s constitution states, “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.” (Volokh, 2) Rhode Island’s constitution states, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” (Volokh, 2) Vermont’s constitution declares that, “The people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State.” (Volokh, 2)Connecticut’s constitution reiterates that idea with the statement “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the State.” (Volokh, 2) In at least seven more of the original states, similar language is included in their constitutions.
In his 1992 Senate Sub Committee on the Constitution report, “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch says:
In my studies as an attorney and as a United States Senator, I have constantly been amazed by the indifference or even hostility shown the Second Amendment by courts, legislatures, and commentators. James Madison would be startled to hear that his recognition of a right to keep and bear arms, which passed the House by a voice vote without objection and hardly a debate, has since been construed in but a single, and most ambiguous Supreme Court decision, whereas his proposals for freedom of religion, which he made reluctantly out of fear that they would be rejected or narrowed beyond use, and those for freedom of assembly, which passed only after a lengthy and bitter debate, are the subject of scores of detailed and favorable decisions. Thomas Jefferson, who kept a veritable armory of pistols, rifles, and shotguns at Monticello, and advised his nephew to forsake other sports in favor of hunting, would be astounded to hear supposed civil libertarians claim firearm ownership should be restricted. Samuel Adams, a handgun owner who pressed for an amendment stating that the “Constitution shall never be construed . . . to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms,” would be shocked to hear that his native state today imposes a year’s sentence, without probation or parole, for carrying a firearm without a police permit. (Hatch, 1)
It seems very clear that our founding fathers and their contemporaries in the individual states thought that in order to maintain their freedom it was of utmost importance that the people of the United States have “the right to keep and bear arms” in defense of themselves and as the framework of a militia. The “right to bear arms” was a fundamental right to our founding fathers. David E. Vandercoy says, “Both the Federalists, those promoting a strong central government, and the Antifederalists, those believing that liberties including the right of self-rule would be protected best by preservation of local autonomy, agreed that arms and liberty were inextricably linked. ” (Vandercoy, 3) Thus, it was placed in the Bill of Rights.
Some people may argue that the Second Amendment’s thrust was for a military or militia, but that is not in evidence. The men of the militia in the colonies were expected to provide their own weapons. It is clear that the private arms of these men were protected. Tahmassebi states that “Ordinarily when called for service these men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time.” (Tahmassebi,3)
The Second Amendment still has significant relevance in today’s society. A recent article from the American Rifleman magazine explains why an isolated town (Aquila) of 1,064 in Arizona has decided to arm themselves. The recent closing of the nearest sheriff’s sub-station, 25 miles away, has left the town without any police protection. The nearest sheriff’s station is now over 60 miles away, and police response times are over 24 hours for most incidents. Residents don’t even bother calling anymore. With recent drug-related burglaries, thefts, and murders affecting almost every person and business in town, the townspeople have decided to arm themselves to protect their families, businesses, and properties. (Tahmassebi,2)
In the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Korean shop owners defended themselves and their property against rioters and looters. In that same incident, the truck driver who was pulled from his truck and nearly beaten to death on national television could have benefited from a firearm. (Tahmassebi,2) The recent home invasion and murder of the Petit family in Connecticut may well have been prevented, if the family had firearms in the home and were prepared and able to use them.
The United States can learn a lesson of what not to do regarding gun control from our neighbor, Canada. According to Alan Gottlieb, Canada’s restrictive gun controls have failed miserably. He states, “The situation is so bad that in the Jan. 3 edition of Canada’s National Post, writer David Frum startled readers by revealing that ‘Canada’s overall crime rate is now 50% higher than the crime rate in the United States.'” (Gottlieb,1) He further noted, “Since the early 1990s, crime rates have dropped in 48 of the 50 states and 80% of American cities. Over that same period, crime rates have risen in six of the 10 Canadian provinces and in seven of Canada’s 10 biggest cities.” (Gottlieb,1)
The most recent complete data available from both countries continues to support Gottlieb’s claim: In 2003, the violent crime rate in the United States was 475 per 100,000 population, while up north there were 963 violent crimes per 100,000 population. The figure for sexual assault in Canada per 100,000 population was more than double that of the United States– 74 as opposed to 32.1, and the assault rate in Canada was also more than twice that of the states, 746 to our 295 for the population rate. The crime rate hasn’t improved recently for Canada, while it has for the United States. Toronto had 78 murders in 2005, according to Frum, which represents a 28 percent increase in homicide since 1995. (Gottlieb,1)
Gottlieb attributes the rise in Canadian crime rates to their restrictive gun laws and the reduction in U.S. crime to the adoption of “shall-issue” and “right-to-carry” laws in many U.S. states. In the intervening years, laws to restrict gun ownership in Canada have become stricter. A national gun registry, costing Canadians billions, has been implemented. As a solution, Prime Minister Martin has proposed to ban private handgun ownership. (Gottlieb,1) Apparently, they are not seeing the connection that research is so obviously pointing out.
David Koppel and Stephen D’Andrilli, in their article from the America Rifleman Feb. 1990, say of Switzerland:
The army sells a variety of machine guns, submachine guns, anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft guns, howitzers, and cannons. Purchasers of these weapons require an easily obtained cantonal license, and the weapons are registered. In a nation of six million people, there are at least two million guns, including 600,000 fully automatic assault rifles, half a million pistols, and numerous machine guns. Virtually every home has a gun. Despite all the guns, the murder rate is a small fraction of the American rate, and is less than the rate in Canada or England, which strictly control guns, or in Japan, which virtually prohibits them. The gun crime rate is so low that statistics are not even kept. (Koppel, 8)
As evidenced by this significant finding, gun ownership lowers the incidences of murder as well as all other crimes. Criminals are less apt to victimize others when they know the potential victim is armed and capable of competently using the weapon. With this knowledge, criminals are deterred from committing crimes as they are aware that the tide would easily turn, and they would become the victim rather than the perpetrator.
In conclusion, the Second Amendment was second for a reason; it was because the writers thought it was of utmost importance. This was shown time and again in state conventions and constitutions with similar language. The fear of a standing army was the driving force behind “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” as a counter to a standing army. The attempts at gun control in other countries have been a failure. Most notably our neighbor to the north, Canada, has experienced the negative consequences of strict gun control laws, as their crime rates have soared while crime rates in the U.S. have continued to decline with the adoption of “right to carry laws” in most states. Countries, such as Switzerland, with liberal gun control and an armed, trained population, have some of the lowest crime rates in the world. We might do well to model our gun control legislation and enforcement after the Swiss model and stop trying to dismantle the Second Amendment.
- Gottlieb, Alan. “Alan Gottlieb: Oh, Canada! Your Restrictive Gun Laws Pushed Crime Beyond U.S. Rates.” MichNews.Com. 24 Jan. 2006. MichNews.Com. 03 Mar. 2008 <https://www.saf.org/oh-canada-your-restrictive-gun-laws-pushed-crime-beyond-u-s-rates/>.
- Koppel, David, and Stephen D’adrilli. “The Swiss and Their Guns.” American Rifleman Feb. 1990. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://davekopel.org/2A/Foreign/swiss-and-their-guns.html>.
- Tahmassebi, Stefan B. “Isolated Arizona Town Resorts to Second Amendment to Save Itself.” Cfif.Org. 04 May 2000. National Rifle Association. 05 Mar. 2008 < http://www.cfif.org/htdocs/freedomline/current/in_our_opinion/Isolated-Arizona-Town-Resorts-Second-Amendment-to-Save-Itself.htm>.
- United States. Cong. Senate. The Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Washington: GPO. <http://constitution.org/mil/rkba82.pdf>
- Vandercoy, David E. “The History of the Second Amendment.” Cfif.Org. 1994. Valparaiso Univ. Law Review. 08 Mar. 2008 <http://www.constitution.org/mil/rkba1982.htm>.
- Volokh, Eugene, comp. Sources on the Second Amendment and the Rights to Keep and Bear Arms in State Constitutions. UCLA Law School. 22 Apr. 2008 <http://www.law.ucla.edu/volokh/2amteach/sources.htm>.