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The Second Amendment is currently the focus of both sides with some claiming they are trying to protect it, and others trying to curtail the rights that others claim it was intended to protect.

So what was the reasoning for including the "Right to Keep and Bear Arms" in the bill of rights?

Since no one is over 200 years old I expect answers will include references for their claims of fact.

  • Wikipedia has quite a bit on this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – user1530 Apr 9 '13 at 17:01
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    "Every Communist must grasp the truth, 'Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.' " -- Mao Tse-tung, 1938 – user4012 Apr 10 '13 at 2:59
  • @user4012 Mao Tse-tung was talking about revolution, not the ability to keep a free state, as the Founding Fathers were. – American Patriot Feb 18 '17 at 2:24
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    @AmericanPatriot - Funny thing is that they thought the fear of a revolution would keep the Big government monster away. – SoylentGray Feb 18 '17 at 2:42
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    @user4012 They may have been thinking about the fear of a revolution, but the Founding Fathers were thinking about protecting themselves and their rights. – American Patriot Feb 18 '17 at 23:23
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Summary: Main reason was to enable people to prevent being forcefully oppressed by the government via the means of standing army (as happened in Europe and the rest of the world in pretty much every rebellion ever in civilized history, but that's a topic for History.SE).

Some supporting quotes below:


  • Here's James Madison fully agreeing with the right to bear arms being purposed as defense against tyranny, in response to Tench Coxe:

    "As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms." Tench Coxe in "Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution." Under the pseudonym "A Pennsylvanian" in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789 at 2 col. 1. Coxe sent a copy of his essay to James Madison along with a letter of the same date. Madison wrote back and the quote follows:

    "Accept my acknowledgments for your favor of the 18th. instant. The printed remarks inclosed in it are already I find in the Gazettes here [New York] ... The amendments ... will however be greatly favored by explanatory strictures of a healing tendency, and is therefore already indebted to the co-operation of your pen." James Madison in a response letter to Tench Coxe above supporting the interpretation of the Second Amendment as an individual right.

  • Noah Webster concurred:

    "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops…" Noah Webster, "An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution" (1787) in Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States (P. Ford, 1888)

  • George Mason

    "To disarm the people [is] the best and most effectual way to enslave them …" George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 380 (June 14, 1788).

  • Richard Henry Lee:

    "to preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them …" Richard Henry Lee writing in Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic, Letter XVIII, January 25, 1788.

  • Patrick Henry:

    "The honorable gentleman who presides told us that, to prevent abuses in our government, we will assemble in convention, recall our delegated powers, and punish our servants for abusing the trust reposed in them. Oh, sir! we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms, wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone; and you have no longer an aristocratical, no longer a democratical spirit. Did you ever read of any revolution in a nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all? You read of a riot act in a country which is called one of the freest in the world, where a few neighbors can not assemble without the risk of being shot by a hired soldiery, the engines of despotism. We may see such an act in America." Patrick Henry, Shall Liberty or Empire be Sought?, from a June 5, 1788 speech in the Virginia Convention, called to ratify the Constitution of the United States.

    and

    "A standing army we shall have, also, to execute the execrable commands of tyranny; and how are you to punish them? Will you order them to be punished? Who shall obey these orders? Will your mace-bearer be a match for a disciplined regiment? In what situation are we to be? The clause before you gives a power of direct taxation, unbounded and unlimited—an exclusive power of legislation, in all cases whatsoever, for ten miles square, and over all places purchased for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, etc. What resistance could be made? The attempt would be madness. You will find all the strength of this country in the hands of your enemies; their garrisons will naturally be the strongest places in the country. Your militia is given up to Congress, also, in another part of this plan; they will therefore act as they think proper; all power will be in their own possession. You can not force them to receive their punishment: of what service would militia be to you, when, most probably, you will not have a single musket in the State? For, us arms are to be provided by Congress, they may or may not furnish them." Patrick Henry, Shall Liberty or Empire be Sought?, from a June 5, 1788 speech in the Virginia Convention, called to ratify the Constitution of the United States.

  • And Alexander Hamilton:

    "If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state. In a single state, if the persons intrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair." Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers # 28.

    "…but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens... who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.'' Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers # 29.


NOTE: All the quotes sourced from here. The saf.org website is especially well regarded since they make extreme efforts to filter out "fake" quotes that are usually falsely attributed to the Founders.

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Here's a great article on the history of the 2nd amendment

It essentially boils down to the philosophy that political power is enforced by the Army, and that If the army and the citizens were separate from each-other then the army would have more political influence than the non-army citizens.

It's harder for a tyrant to use his army to subjugate the common citizens when the common citizens ARE the army.

an excerpt from the article:

The English republican views on the relationship between arms and democracy profoundly influenced the views of the founding fathers. 122 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.

The first discussion in which these views were articulated occurred in the context of Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution concerning the powers of Congress to raise a standing army and itspower over the militia. As initially proposed, Congress was to be provided the power to raise armies. 124 Objections were raised that there was no check against standing armies in time of peace. 125 The debate focused on how to avoid the dangers of a standing army; there was no dispute that a standing army posed a significant threat to the liberty of the people. 126 The dilemma was that some type of national army would be necessary in time of war, but the results of waiting until war occurred to raise a national army could be disastrous. 127 The solution adopted was two-fold. First, Congress would have the power to raise an army but no appropriation of money for that use could be for more (pg.1023) than two years. 128 Because the people controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate, and Congress controlled the purse, the people were given an effective check against the dangers of a standing army. The second check against the dangers of a standing army was provided by the existence of the militia. Again, however, the necessity of providing for the common defense had to be satisfied while guarding against the national government's abuse of power.

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It's the ultimate separation of powers.

The moment we acknowledge that the right of citizens to self-defend, to defend mutually, and to unite to throw off tyranny is a God-given, unalienable right, the power of both foreign and local governments, and of all organized and unorganized hostiles becomes limited and manageable.

It's in the Second Amendment itself:

"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 security of a free state" implies the need for security at all levels, including (a) the security of private citizens and families in their homes and in society, (b) the security of neighborhoods, schools, municipalities, and counties, (c) the security of free states (as in Colorado, Texas, etc.), and (d) the security of the United States of America from abuses in central and local leadership as well as from all other criminal and foreign powers of any sort or origin.

The Founders recognized the need for checks and balances in government to limit the concentration of power, and that corruptible persons are not to be trusted with too much of it. Power is diffused to the maximum extent possible by acknowledging the right of all citizens to self-protect. This is the very notion that is baked into the Second Amendment. You will note that it does not say, "The right of the Government to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed", but "of the people". This is entirely consistent with the 9th and 10th Amendments, which expressly limit governmental powers, ascribing all freedoms as duly had by the citizens themselves, and to government only as enumerated.

It's also in the Oath of Citizenship, which applies to all U.S. citizens and is the legally binding contract upon which citizenship is predicated:

"I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; [...] I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law"

https://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/naturalization-test/naturalization-oath-allegiance-united-states-america

It's also defined in U.S. Federal code:

"The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males ... at least 17 years of age and ... under 45 years of age"

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10/246

From these sources it becomes clear that there is no limitation on the national origin, etc. of an enemy of the United States or of a security threat. The oath of citizenship consists of a binding covenant and agreement for the citizens to protect each other mutually from all invaders, which can also be gleaned as the most prominent objective and benefit of Union according to the Federalist Papers. The individual, uninfringeable right to adequate arms and organization is an indispensable key to national security. Only by shackling or obscuring this right would it be possible for anyone to amass power against the will of the people.

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