To the editor:
This is the text of the Second Amendment: “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.”
During every discussion of gun control and the Second Amendment, many people insist that the first part of it is totally meaningless and irrelevant, and that only the part about the right to bear arms is important — not only important, but tantamount to being a sacred right. If that were the case, why did the Founding Fathers include the first part?
I might agree with you if the Second Amendment read, “A well-nourished populace, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It is obvious that the two parts of that statement are not related. (They would be if, say, the founders also included something about killing wild creatures for food with arms.)
Why is the construction of the Second Amendment any different from a statement like this: “A healthy, physically strong populace, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of people to be saved from starving to death whenever humanly possible, shall not be infringed.” Do you think the meaning of the second portion of that statement is totally divorced from the first part?
If you agree that we should try to prevent people from starving to death, is the first part of that statement totally irrelevant and meaningless?
Many scholarly, thoughtful interpreters of the Second Amendment have examined the discussions that led to its inclusion in the Bill of Rights and have concluded that its main purpose was to enable the members of militias who hunted fugitive slaves to have a constitutional right to bear arms. The arms available then were muskets, which were inaccurate except at close range, and could discharge only a single ball without having to be reloaded — a process that would take at least 30 seconds.
The Founding Fathers, without any doubt whatsoever, had no other weapon in mind, and did not have in mind people who were not members of militias.
Why is that not obvious?