In the wake of massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., the movie theatre shootings in Aurora, Colo., and a string of similar incidents too long to ignore, a growing number of people are alarmed at the attachment so many of their fellow countrymen have to owning military-style assault rifles with large capacity ammunition clips. “You can’t use those for hunting,” they say. “I’ve never seen a deer with a bullet proof vest!” They add, “People can certainly own hunting rifles or handguns to protect their homes, but there’s no reason for anyone to own battlefield weaponry.”
I am more alarmed at why so many supposedly informed members of the commentary class think that our Founding Fathers passed the Second Amendment—clearly a high national priority right behind the freedoms of speech and religion—to protect the freedom to hunt, practice marksmanship, or guard against home invaders.
The Second Amendment reads:
“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.”
Like the protections of the First Amendment, such as for speech and the press, the right to bear arms has a specifically political purpose. State militias and privately armed citizens are an extra layer of security against foreign invasion, i.e., they help keep a “free State.” Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution provides for Congress calling up the militia “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.”
One of the reasons no one invaded Switzerland in the 20th century, aside from their imposing geography, is the widely armed citizenry that is trained for militia service.
But a government can just as easily take away its country’s freedom. The Founders did not want the federal government controlling a large standing army because they were wary of creating a large, powerful, tyrannical government in the nation’s capital, far removed from the people. So they foresaw national defense resting largely on federal use of state militias, and that only on American soil. Though Congress may “raise and support Armies,” funding for their use is constitutionally limited to two-year appropriations.
Though the Constitution provides for federal use of state militias to “suppress insurrection,” the Founders must have feared the possibility of an increasingly tyrannical government expanding its armies and disbanding potential armed opposition at the state level. For this reason, they added the Second Amendment. Armed citizens are a bulwark against national tyranny.
On this understanding, the people’s right to own weapons that are designed for specifically military use is what the Constitution protects. And if it protects these weapons, it also protects all lesser grade firearms, like hunting rifles, shotguns, and handguns.
People are free to think what they want about this provision: absurdly outdated, or even ill-conceived from the start. But it’s the fundamental law of the land. We may amend it, but we may not ignore it or “interpret” it away as merely “the hunting amendment.”