In government class a couple of semesters ago my professor, Kent Miller, explained what, to date, I still find the most balanced view of our right to bear arms.
First, of course, there’s the conservative interpretation which focuses on “the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.” This is easy enough to grasp and leads to the quick interpretation that we should have the right to own whatever weapon we want.
We left-leaning folks, on the other hand, tend to focus on the phrase “well-regulated militia,” which, interpreted another way, implies that one should be a member of a militia in order to own a weapon. That is where Professor Miller’s explanation ended, and here is where my own pondering on the second begins.
The founders could have gone a few ways in writing the amendment. Instead of assuming everything to be timeless and perfect, the third amendment suggests the extent to which the Constitution and Bill of Rights are still products of their place and time. After all, when was the last time we had a Supreme Court case regarding the quartering of soldiers?
Said cherished document could have been phrased in perfectly clear fashion to favor one view or the other. The Founding Fathers could have left out any mention of militias. Or, the amendment could be worded so that one would unquestionably need to be part of a militia in order to have a gun. So, which was it?
Forward-thinking as the convention was, and knowing how they designed the Constitution to change via amendments, it’s possible that they left the second Amendment intentionally vague so that future generations could interpret it as the times demanded. Then again, maybe the second isn’t a product of foresight at all. Minutemen were crucial in winning the Revolutionary War, hence the mention of “well organized militias,” possibly as much as the third was a response to Britain’s Quartering Act.
Allow a moment to demystify and humanize the Framers a bit, (yes, despite all our reverence, they most certainly were human) and think back to the times of the Constitutional Convention. Just getting the Constitution ratified at all was quite a contentious battle that’s why the Bill of Rights came to be in the first place.
Perhaps then, the wording of the second Amendment is purposefully vague so that each side at the time would read into it what they wanted to hear, and thus approve, leaving these kinds of problems for us down the line!
Angelou del Angel
Dallas (formerly Bridgeport)