The “Second Amendment” is one of the most frequently cited clauses in the US Constitution, and one of the most difficult to understand.
The 27 words that make up the Second Amendment seem to confuse modern Americans on the left and right.
The irony is that people at both ends of our contemporary political spectrum regard the Second Amendment as an obstacle to sound gun control. Gun rights supporters (most but not exclusively on the right) seem to believe that the Second Amendment prohibits many forms of gun control. The left is frustrated by the lack of progress in modern gun control, leading to regular calls for the abolition of the amendment.
Both of these beliefs ignore an indisputable historical truth. The framers and adopters of the Second Amendment are usually enthusiastic supporters of well-regulated freedom. They believe that without a strong government and effective laws, freedom will inevitably degenerate into laissez-faire rights and ultimately into anarchy. The Federalists who study history carefully, especially the history of Rome, the writers of the constitution realize that tyranny is caused more by anarchy than by a powerful government.
For the past two decades, I have been studying and writing the history of gun control and the Second Amendment. When I started this research, most people thought that regulation is a relatively new phenomenon, which is related to the rise of modern big government. In fact, although the founding generation did support the idea of an armed population, they were still enthusiastic supporters of gun laws.
Consider these five types of gun laws recognized by the founders.
Nowadays, American gun rights advocates generally oppose registration of any kind, even though such schemes are common in all other industrial democracies and generally consider registration to violate the Second Amendment. This statement is also difficult to match the history of the establishment of the country. Except for the colonial aristocracy in Pennsylvania (a colony where religious pacifists prevented the establishment of militias), all colonies were recruited from local residents. They were white people between the ages of 16 and 60. They were state-controlled militias. The colonies, and then the newly independent states, recorded these privately-owned weapons needed for militia services. If weapons that are not well maintained under working conditions are reported to the assembly personnel, they may be fined.
#2: Public carry
The modern gun rights movement actively pursues the goal of expanding the public’s right to carry guns.
The American colonies inherited various restrictions that evolved under the British common law. In England in the 18th century, armed travel was limited to specific occasions, such as assisting sheriffs and police officers. Members of the upper class travel with weapons also very limited. Concealed weapons such as pistols are subject to stricter restrictions. The City of London completely prohibits the public from carrying these weapons.
The American War of Independence did not engulf British common law. In fact, most colonies adopted the common law because the colonies had interpreted it before independence, including regulations prohibiting travel in densely populated areas. Therefore, when the Second Amendment is passed, there is no general right to travel with arms, and of course no right to travel with hidden weapons. In the decades after the passage of the Second Amendment, slavery first appeared in this right in the United States. The market revolution in the early 19th century made cheap and reliable pistols available. As a result, the murder rate in the south soared.
In other parts of the United States, traditional British restrictions on armed travel still exist, but there is an important change. For individuals who have good reason to worry about imminent threats, US law recognizes the ban as an exception. However, by the end of this century, prohibiting public access has become a legal norm, not an exception.
#3: A firm foothold in the law
According to traditional English common law, a person has the responsibility to retreat, not to stand on your side. Lethal force is justified only if there are no other alternatives. Before annihilating the aggressor, one must retreat until it is impossible to retreat.
Only in the so-called castle doctrine or the concept of “a person’s home is his castle” can a home that does not require retreat be justified to use lethal force. In the decades after the Civil War, he put forward a more radical view of the public’s right to self-defense from his own standpoint, and this view slowly emerged.
#4: Safe storage method
Although some gun activists try to demonize government power, they must realize that one of the most important rights that citizens enjoy is the free election of representatives, and they can enact laws to promote health and public safety. This is the basis of orderly free thought. The control of gun powder and guns stems from the exercise of this basic freedom.
In 1786, Boston acted in accordance with this legal principle, prohibiting the storage of guns containing guns in any residence in the city. The gun must be unloaded, which makes sense, because the black powder used in the gun during this period is corrosive. Loaded guns also pose a special hazard in the event of a fire, as they may discharge and injure innocent bystanders and firefighters.
#5: Pledge of Loyalty
One of the most common claims heard in the modern Second Amendment debate is that the founders should incorporate this provision into the constitution to make the right to revolution possible. However, this claim is also based on a serious misunderstanding of the role of weapon rights in the theory of the US Constitution.
In fact, the founders carried out large-scale civilian disarmament during the American Revolution. The right to bear arms is conditional on the pledge of allegiance to the government. Those who refused to take the oath were disarmed.
It is absurd to think that the Second Amendment aims to protect the right to use weapons against the government. In fact, the Constitution itself defines this behavior as treason.
Gun control and gun ownership have always coexisted in American history. The Second Amendment poses no obstacles to making wise gun laws. It is not the fault of the Constitution; it is ours.
This article is republished from The Conversation, a non-profit news site dedicated to sharing the ideas of academic experts.
As a researcher at Ohio State University’s John Glen College School of Public Policy, Cornell is the lead researcher on the project, which was funded by the Joyce Foundation to study the history of gun control. Part of the research cited in this article was carried out under this funding.