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What is the Second Amendment and How is it Explained?

This graphic features a black and white image of a handgun resting on the Constitution. On the lower portion of the graphic is the title of the blog which reads, "What Is The Second Amendment And How Is It Explained?"

Colorado Handgun Safety is proud to be your go-to handgun safety center on Colorado’s Front Range. In addition to helping you reach your handgun safety goals, whether that’s learning to become an NRA instructor or learning how to safely operate a pistol, we’re also passionate about making sure you know your rights when it comes to handguns. One of the most important rights you have comes from the Second Amendment’s guarantee to protect your right to keep and bear arms.

Even though the Second Amendment is one of the most important parts of the Constitution, it’s also one of the most debated parts. Many people argue that it has two interpretations: one being protecting the right of individuals to keep and bear arms and the other being that militia organizations have the right to bear arms in certain situations. As handgun safety experts, we’re going to break down the Second Amendment for you and help you understand exactly what it means.

The image shows the Bill of Rights and a shotgun laying on top of the American flag.

What is the Second Amendment? 

Originally proposed by James Madison, the Second Amendment was approved in 1791. Madison’s goal was to create a compromise between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists. He wanted to make sure that state militias had adequate power to protect themselves but also wanted to make sure that civilians would be able to fight back and protect themselves against a tyrannical federal government. The difficulty with trying to interpret the Second Amendment, and why America has an ongoing gun control debate, is that you’re trying to interpret words that were written long before our country evolved into what it has become.

Many people believe the Second Amendment refers to an individual right that guarantees that you, as a law-abiding American, have the right to bear arms and no one, including the national government and federal government, can take away that right. Now, what does “bear arms” really mean? “Bear arms” refers to an individual’s right to possess and carry firearms. The Second Amendment is crucial to protecting this constitutional right of lawful gun owners.

This image shows a handful of bullets sitting on top of the Bill of Rights.

What the Second Amendment Means

The Founding Fathers had the unimaginable task of deciding what to include in the Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill of Rights. As America has evolved and changed, so have these documents. Since its adoption over 200 years ago, the Second Amendment has been amended 17 times.

Even though the Second Amendment is just a short sentence, it protects one of your most important fundamental rights as an American. By taking a closer look at the different phrases that make up the Second Amendment, you can gain a better understanding of your unequivocal right to bear arms.

“A well regulated Militia, …”

The Second Amendment begins with the phrase “a well regulated militia”. Although militia usually refers to a military force composed of civilians, in this case, it refers to the American people and their rights as American citizens. George Mason, one of the founding fathers, once said that the militia “is the whole people”.

In 2008, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in District of Columbia v. Heller and ruled that the language of the Second Amendment referred to the rights of individuals and not the rights of states to form a well-regulated militia.

“…being necessary to the security of a free State…”

The next part of the Second Amendment reflects the Founding Fathers’ belief that a free state means American citizens should be able to protect themselves, their freedoms, and their rights. They made sure this belief was written into law and included in the U.S. Bill of Rights. In order for America to truly be a free state, it’s crucial for you as an American citizen to have the freedom to act in self-defense to protect yourself and your property.

The image shows two gold bullets resting on a book that's opened to a page showing the first three amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

The Second Amendment closes with the words, “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This clearly states that American citizens have the right to carry and bear arms and that right shall not be infringed by anyone, including the federal and national government. This small phrase is extremely powerful and protects the individual right of people to keep and bear firearms lawfully.

It’s important to note that the Fourth Amendment has similar wording to the Second Amendment. The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”. Similar to the Second Amendment, the Fourth Amendment solidifies certain rights of American citizens and insists those rights may not be disregarded in any way, shape, or form.

The similarity between the two amendments is important because it confirms the idea that the Founding Fathers were using the U.S. Constitution to protect individual rights, not the rights of the government.

Second Amendment Court Cases

There have been several monumental court cases where the interpretation of the Second Amendment is brought into question in some form. These court cases have helped shape how the U.S. views the constitution and American citizens’ rights for bearing arms.

There are two main court cases to consider when debating the Second Amendment and deciphering its meaning.

District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)

One important court case to consider when talking about the Second Amendment is District of Columbia v. Heller. The United States Supreme Court’s ruling in this case helped solidify certain rules and helped shape handgun laws. Dick Heller sued D.C. due to its ban on having a handgun in your home. This case took place in 2008, marking the first time in nearly 70 years that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Second Amendment. The court ruled in favor of Heller and the majority agreed that American citizens have the right to keep handguns in their own homes for self-defense.

One of the most important factors of this case surrounds the words that Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Justice Scalia, the author of the main opinion, wrote, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry weapons whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” These words helped confirm the interpretation that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual right to possess weapons lawfully. The Supreme Court wanted to make it clear that there still had to be certain regulations surrounding guns so that an individual didn’t have the right to just walk around with assault weapons, because this obviously poses a safety threat to others.

This case was monumental for Second Amendment rights. The ruling meant that the individual right to keep and bear arms could not be taken out of context by those who were seeking to pass unconstitutional firearm regulations. In short, passing certain firearm laws would violate the Second Amendment.

The image shows the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010)

Another important case pertaining to Second Amendment rights is McDonald v. Chicago. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court had previously ruled in favor of Dick Heller just two years earlier, some states were still attempting to pass unconstitutional firearm laws.

Otis McDonald and three other Chicago residents sued Chicago over its handgun ban. The previous court case involving Dick Heller only had standing federally, so the court agreed to hear McDonald v. Chicago. In the end, the 5-4 ruling of McDonald v. Chicago meant the Supreme Court agreed that the Second Amendment applied to both state and local governments, in addition to federal governments. Because of this historic case, Chicago’s ban on guns was overturned.

Second Amendment Rights – Protections for All Law-Abiding Americans 

Even though it isn’t that long, the Second Amendment’s words say a lot about your gun rights. It’s important to remember that even though the Second Amendment guarantees your right to keep and bear arms, you may have varying gun rights depending on what state you’re in. Different states have different gun laws, and some states have stricter gun laws than others. Even though some states have stricter gun laws than others, the Second Amendment guarantees your right to keep and bear arms regardless of where you live, as long as you can purchase and possess firearms lawfully. Because of this guarantee, you have certain rights surrounding firearms, including:

1. Use Firearms for Lawful Purposes

  • In District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that having firearms for self-defense purposes is a pillar of the Second Amendment. In the ruling, the court said that having a firearm “in case of confrontation” is an individual’s main reason for lawfully being in possession of a firearm.

2. Own Lawful Firearms

  • You have the individual right to own guns, but there are certain regulations your must follow. These gun regulations were put in place to keep guns away from potentially dangerous individuals. That’s why there’s a strict procedure you must follow when it comes to applying for a handgun and being allowed to be in possession of handguns.

The image shows a book with the title "Gun Law" and next to it is a gavel.

Colorado Handgun Safety Is Here To Help You Understand Your Rights

As handgun experts helping the communities on Colorado’s Front Range become more knowledgeable and responsible gun owners, Colorado Handgun Safety knows that trying to understand your rights with firearms can be confusing. Depending on which state you reside in, certain laws can make it extremely complicated to buy and own guns. That’s why it’s so important to know your Second Amendment rights thoroughly and to have an understanding of how your state’s gun laws may affect your Second Amendment rights. Hopefully, this blog provided more insight into the Second Amendment and helped you better understand your individual right to keep and bear arms. To learn more about firearms, gun laws, and your constitutional rights, make sure to check out our blog for more informational posts!

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