What rights does the Second Amendment grant US citizens?

The Amendment reads as follows: 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.


I meant more specifically - for example, what is a well regulated militia? Does this allow a private citizen to carry a gun? Does it allow a private citizen to carry a gun at home if he is in a militia group?

14 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    You generally have two types of opinions here, both of which are actually wrong, though contain a lot of truth.

    The "right" to keep arms is just that, any individual (even non citizens who are considered a part of the community, normally three months legally living in the country does it)cannot be prevented from owning arms, buying them or selling them (though restrictions can be placed on the buying and selling as long as it does not prevent you doing it is a "legal fashion" ie, not selling to those who should not have them) you are also allowed to take guns to and from the sale, unloaded. (this actually dates back beyond the english Bill of Rights, people were not allowed to ride armed on horseback)

    The other "right" is that of bearing arms. The supreme court said in Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275, 280 (1897)

    “the right of the people to keep and bear arms (article 2) is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons;”

    Carry and conceal is not protected, besides in --Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 US 105, US Supreme Court, 1943 they said "No State shall convert a liberty into a privilege, license it, and charge a fee therefor." Therefore any licensing of guns would be unconstitutional (even though the 2A does not apply to the states, i'm sure the NRA wouldn;'t be supporting carry and conceal licensing laws if it were.)

    You have to actually look at what the founding fathers were saying to understand exactly what the bearing of arms clause is all about.

    In the First congress discussion on the 2A

    “Mr. Gerry -- This declaration of rights, I take it, is intended to secure the people against the maladministration of the Government; if we could suppose that, in all cases, the rights of the people would be attended to, the occasion for guards of this kind would be removed. Now, I am apprehensive that this clause would give an opportunity to the people in power to destroy the Constitution itself. They can declare who are those religiously scrupulous and prevent them from bearing arms.

    What, sir, is the use of the militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty. Now, it must be evident, that, under this provision, together with their other powers, Congress could take such measures, with respect to a militia, as to make a standing army necessary. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”

    Basically he said that the 2A was there to prevent the federal govt using its standing army to take down the people, if the govt could declare all individuals religiously scrupulous then there would be no individuals in the militia to defend against the govt.

    That means, bearing arms is the "right" of individuals to BE IN THE MILITIA.

    So, individuals can keep arms, in case they are needed by the militia, and they can be in the militia in case they are needed by the militia. It is all about the militia.

    But, for those who hate guns, it does not mean you have to be in the militia to own guns, that would defeat the whole point of the 2A, you have to be in the militia to bear arms, because private armies are not allowed for obvious reasons and there supreme court cases where people who walked through the streets in formation armed were seen as acting illegally and not protected by the 2A.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    A Militia is a citizen army. The founding father's knew that the citizens were required to have the right to defend themselves from an overzealous government. Look at it in the context of what they had just been through.

    For those of you that argue the well regulated militia portion limits the right, keep in mind that AG Gonzales argued on behalf of the Bush administration that the First Amendment does not give you the right to free speech. It just says congress shall pass no law restricting that right. Do we want to get into parsing words or should people have rights until government justifies a need to take them?

    Keep in mind the context of the constitution. The framers believed that it was a compact, that it spelled out those limited rights that the people were granting to the government.

    Amendment IX [ Annotations ]

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Amendment X [ Annotations ]

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

  • 1 decade ago

    As long as I can remember, there's been argument over just what that means.

    The "well regulated militia" part would seem to suggest that gun registration, at least, is within the gov't rights. I'm not sure that I think this is a good idea. And there are others who become hysterical about it. But that does seem to be what the 2nd amendment is saying.

    My suggestion; every head of household should be required to own and maintain a firearm. (There are municipalities here in the US that have such ordinances, but they don't enforce them. Mostly symbolic, I think)

    These weapons should be registered. And I wouldn't be opposed to mandatory regular service. something like our national guard or the Swiss system where everyone is part of the army until retirement.

    In this way, any right we have to bear arms would hardly be infringed, this militia would be regulated and we would have protection from our own gov't and from coups-de-tat, etc.

  • 1 decade ago

    The most common interpretation is

    Reason for the right: a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State

    The Right Itself: the right of the People to keep and bear arms

    You'll notice that the word militia, is in the justification for the right (otherwise known as the subjective clause of the sentence) not the right itself. The right of the People, is to keep and bear arms. Has nothing to do with militias.

    If you look into the debates and discussions of the founding fathers during the times, the right to bear arms was put forth to ensure the People allways had a means to fight tyranny.

    The militia, was any man 17-65 years old. 'Everyone was armed' at the time. It was commonplace and a right possible covered under the 9th amendment as well.

    "A string of amendments were presented to the lower house; these altogether respected personal liberty.' letter to patrick henry, June 12, 1789, refering to the introduction of what became the Bill of Rights. William Grayson

    "If circumstances should at any time oblige the goverment 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, littel if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend thier rights and those of thier fellow citizens." Federalist No. 29 Alexander Hamilton

    "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.' -- proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776 Thomas Jefferson

    'The great object is, that every man be armed." Patrick Henry

    'A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves.. and include all men capable of bearing arms... To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms... The mind of that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle."

    "...whereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people allways possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them..." Richard H. Lee, additional letters from the federal farmer 53, 1788

    To understand the amendments one must understand the men that wrote them, and thier intentions, not, modern day thoughts on what we want them to mean.

    Finally, if your still with me

    "Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the people's liberty teeth keystone...the rifle and pistol are equally indispensible... more than 99% of them by thier silence indicate that they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference. When fireamrs go, all goes, we need them every hour. President George Washingon 1st session of Congress.

    One more comment on your question: The 2nd amendment does not imply or distinguish 'private citizens' (Citizen being a person not in the military) it means People' all the people.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Study history and you would know what it grants. Yes, back in the day, there were militias because the US Army either didn't exist or was too small to regulate certain parts of the US. Andrew Jackson was a militia leader.

    To bear arms is for the citizens to have a public defense in case some other country decides to invade our public community and we're left with nothing or waiting for our military to help us.

  • 1 decade ago

    It grants citizens the right to keep and bear arms.

    THe " A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State," is the justification for the right.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    The right to keep "bear arms". The arms of bears, I'm pretty sure that's what it meant. Plus, the founding fathers were pretty sure that no one would twist that out of context.

    But....people did....

    Can I ASK YOU, what is a WELL REGULATED MILITIA? Because it certainly doesn't imply a civilian population with arms uncontrolled. I find it funny that 2nd Amendment activists place so much emphasis on the second part of the amendment and ignore the first.

  • 1 decade ago

    It means just what it says. People in a well regulated militia have the right to bear arms thought it has been interpreted throughout the years to give all citizens to bear arms. I do not think that the founding fathers intended to have our country overtaken with weapons.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    As of this time it is intrepreted as the right for every citizen to own a gun

  • 1 decade ago


    That's what it states....

    The founding Father's knew we needed protection for our nation and FROM our government.

    Funny how the Supremes are now going to re-define this too....

    It's REALLY sad!!!

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