From Our Founding until the Present: The Meaning of the Second Amendment

Written by Greg Hopkins on January 11, 2018

Historically, Liberals, Progressives, Socialists, Fascists, and Communists (and since the late 19th century, the Democrat Party) have all held that constitutions are “living documents” that can be interpreted by legislatures, courts and unelected regulators to mean whatever those bodies want them to mean, according to what they deem is “necessary” or desirable at any given moment. Consequently, they want to build our country and the personal rights of its citizens on sand.

Law provides us with a basic framework for ordering our lives, a roadmap if you will, that allows us to know what to expect for ourselves and our property. If the law constantly changes, we are unable to plan for the future or to even know what the laws are.

FDR told his “Brain Trusters” in 1932, “All Americans know that the Constitution is a negative document that prohibits the Federal government from interfering in the lives of individuals or the States. Your job, gentlemen, is to convince them that it says exactly the opposite!” Since then, we have been brainwashed to FDR’s point of view; burdened with unconstitutional and unnecessary laws and regulations “For our own good.”

These attacks on our God-given rights have occurred on many fronts, but one of the most assaulted rights is the right of individual citizens to keep and bear arms. The right of self-defense and to possess the means to defend ourselves (with weapons) is a Natural Right. According to the Founders, their reading of the Bible, and the thinkers they relied upon, self-defense is a right inherent to every human being, granted to us by God at birth. Because Natural Rights existed before government did and stand independent of it, governments can neither grant nor take away these rights.

The Declaration of Independence refers to these “Unalienable” rights stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….” Self-defense is clearly implied as coming under The Right to Life; for without self-defense we have no practical way to enforce our right to life against those who would harm us. The Declaration goes on to say that government’s only job is to acknowledge and secure these rights for the people.

Unlike the government-worshipping Left, Conservatives interpret the Constitution as one would any other statute, because it is THE founding statute of our nation. As a result, we interpret it by its “original intent”. Original Intent does not mean divining the intent of the statute so much as determining the original meaning and effect in law that the Founders meant for it; i.e., “What did the document mean when it was written?”. To do this, we take the words at face value in their original context, and only then go behind the document for the meaning if the words at face value don’t make sense. Most states in 1789 ratified the Constitution on the condition that a Bill of Rights, explicitly laying/ out and guaranteeing the Natural Rights of Citizens, would be amended to it.

Originally, the States submitted 126 amendments for Congress’ consideration. The Bill of Rights was lifted directly from those lists of Unalienable Rights already acknowledged in State Constitutions which the American people held undeniable, evident, and necessary for their safety from encroachment by the Federal and their states’ governments. In other words, the American people, the states, and Congress intended that citizens should have the same rights against Federal interference that they enjoyed from State interference.

James Madison, “The Father of the Constitution”, proposed at the Constitutional Convention that the right to keep and bear arms should be included in Article 1 Section 9 (which imposes specific limitations on Congress’ power) of the body of the Constitution! In the debates in Congress concerning the Bill of Rights, Madison stated that those ten Amendments “…are calculated to secure the personal rights of the people.” In accord with Madison, in the Bill of Rights, each place where the phrase, “the right of the people” has come into question, the Supreme Court has ultimately held that the phrase refers to the rights of individuals!

In the Senate, a change to limit the right to keep and bear arms only “for the defense of the United States” was defeated. It was never the Founders intent that the 2d Amendment guarantee anything but the rights of individuals. We know this because that first Congress rejected all amendments on any subject not having to do with individual rights.

Gun grabbers often claim that the 1934 Supreme Court case of United States vs. Miller limits possession of military-type firearms to state militias only. This is wrong. Miller was convicted of having a sawed-off shotgun in violation of state law. In federal court, Miller argued it was his 2d Amendment right. The federal district court found for Miller, and Arkansas appealed. Miller, however, filed no appellate brief nor did he hire counsel for fight the appeal, so his side of the case was never heard. The Supreme Court affirmed Miller’s conviction, but rejected the state’s contention that citizens were limited to carrying military-style firearms only on militia duty. They said that the 2d Amendment limited Federal interference of the right, not the states. Therefore, Arkansas could prohibit Miller from owning a sawed-off shotgun. It also stated, however, that had Miller proven that sawed-off shotguns were used by the military, those weapons would then be legal for citizens (as potential militia members) would be legal to own. Sawed-off shotguns had in fact been in use by the U.S. Military for decades by 1934! (But no one was there to argue that for Miller.) The same year, possession of sawed-off shotguns was prohibited/limited by the National Firearms Act.

In the 2010 case of Heller vs. District of Columbia, SCOTUS ruled that under the 14th Amendment, the 2d Amendment recognized an individual right to carry firearms in the District, forcing it to grant carry permits for the first time. In 2012, SCOTUS held that Heller applied to the States as well, in MacDonald vs. City of Chicago (thereby reversing Miller). Today, the states cannot forbid the ownership and carrying of firearms. However, state laws can still prevent carrying by restricting their citizens’ rights to carry certain kinds of firearms, by making issuance of permits discretionary with the police, sheriffs, or some other regulatory agency, setting high fees for permits, and requiring expensive and time-consuming training before issuing permits.

Because of these laws, we do not yet enjoy the nationwide, unfettered, ability to carry firearms everywhere, when we want, without State or Federal interference. It remains for SCOTUS to enforce our Unalienable Rights in some future case by striking down all Nanny-State laws that contradict our Constitution and our God-given freedoms. The Founders meant for those to be affirmed and secured to the people throughout all time! Therefore, it is vital to our freedom that we support President Trump in appointing Justices to SCOTUS who are strict constructionists who will rule on the plain meaning of the Constitution. Justices like these will renew, reaffirm, and enforce our Natural Rights, as our Founders intended.

Image: Excerpted from photograph by Mike Pauwels/Semper Fidelis Photography

Greg Hopkins
Greg Hopkins is a recovering lawyer, city prosecutor, police Use-of-Force law instructor, former city judge in two towns and criminal defense lawyer. He’s been teaching the Bible to teens and adults for 40 years. He now trains CCP holders and armed church security teams in self defense law. He also does expert witnessing in firearms and self defense cases. His book is A Time To Kill: The Myth of Christian Pacifism, on the Bible and Self Defense.