Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - Bill of Rights

"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."

Preservation and Proposition

Our mission is to document the pivotal Second Amendment events that occurred in Frontier Mercersburg, and its environs, and to heighten awareness of the importance of these events in the founding of our Nation.

We are dedicated to the preservation of the place where the Second Amendment was "born" and to the proposition that the Second Amendment (the "right to bear arms") is the keystone of our Liberty and the Republic.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mercersburg - Birthplace and Rebellion (Part II)

By Tim McCown

Lost in the debate about collective or individual rights is the fact that this is a right that goes back before our ancestors even got around to thinking about it. David T. Hardy in his article, "Historical Basis of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms", notes that it is almost impossible to find any document that dates an actual beginning. I have chosen for this discussion to note Henry II and the "1181 Assize of Arms", as the starting point.

In this document all British citizens between 15 and 40 were required to purchase and keep arms. What you were required to purchase was dependent upon your station in life. Even the poorest citizens were required to have leather armor, helmet and lance. Twice a year all citizens were required to be inspected by the king's officials to insure that everyone possessed the necessary arms. In addition the king was expected to depend exclusively upon his armed freemen.

As time progressed the common law sought to force all commoners to possess what was then the most deadly military weapon, and it imposed only minimal constraints upon how that weapon should or could be used. It only imposed sanctions for criminal misuse.

The invention of a transportable firearm called a wheellock engendered the earliest attempts at weapons control. The English Civil War brought to a head the issue of disarmament and fire arms confiscation. In 1662 Charles II pushed for a Militia statute. The Militia Act of 1662 also gave the militia the right to search for and confiscate weapons from suspicious persons and religious independents. This boiled down to mainly all Protestants. Of note according to Hardy, the state papers from this era are filled with reports of confiscations.

In 1671 the Hunting Act was passed. This was restricted to only the wealthiest person's. Guns could be confiscated from everyone but the wealthy.

In 1688 William of Orange and his wife Mary entered the nation in a bloodless Coup d"etat that the British called, "The Glorious Revolution". The right to bear arms was contained in the "Declaration of Rights" and one year later the "English Bill of Rights" was adopted. Article 7 of the English Bill is the right to bear arms. This article states, " the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law."

The Glorious Revolution not only gave birth to the codified right to bear arms, but to the political philosophy ( John Locke and Contact Law ) that would, eventually, give birth to the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution. Simply, Locke believed that government had an obligation to defend its citizens as part of a social contract. If the government failed in its obligation to protect the right to Life, Liberty, and Property, then the citizens, he posited, had a right to change the government by whatever means available to them, even revolution.

With the 1760's frontier in America (of which Pennsylvania was a part), in a total state of anarchy, and it's Quaker government without a standing militia to protect it's citizens, it provided the very model that was contained in Locke's Second Treatise. Specifically, the lack of a standing militia lends credence to the idea that before the Revolution the right to bear arms was seen as an individual right.

When Pennsylvania finally takes control of its own destiny in 1776 the first state constitution after deposing the Penn's, included a right to bear arms. This was the first assertion of the right to bear arms in an American state constitution. It basically said it was for the defense of the individual and the state.

The controversy today may be much more simple than a misinterpretation of what our founding fathers meant. Some historians, such as Terry Bouton in, "Taming Democracy", believe that some of our Founders became reactionary after winning our freedom. Realizing that the right to bear arms had a significant impact on the Revolution, they weren't concerned with arms in the hands of state created militia, but some contemplated that with arms in the hands of individual citizens, not controlled by a the state or federal government, that they could be the next tyranny overthrown. This lead to a political compromise that in the end left the wording of the 2nd amendment, regarding individual vs. collective rights, some would say, ambiguous.

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