The original understanding of the public's right to keep and bear arms as embodied in the second amendment to the US Constitution got some breathing room yesterday. Finally, a court that understands that "people" are different from a "militia".
The second amendment to the United States Constitution says:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the [militia] to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Well...something like that. (For those of you who didn't know, the second instance of the word "militia"--in brackets--really says "people". It's said that for about 220 years.)
Two of three judges on the federal appeals court understood this distinction when, yesterday, the court overturned a handgun ban in the District of Columbia.
In a rather "duh" moment, the court stated that Second Amendment activities
are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued intermittent enrollment in the militia.
It is interesting that the second amendment text refers to a "well-regulated militia". But it goes without saying that it grants to the people the right to own firearms. Let's look back at the original intent of the populace at the time the United States Constitution. James Madison, author of the second amendment, wrote in the Federalist Papers, which were used to influence the representatives of the different states to vote in favor of the new Constitution, said:
The advantage of being armed . . . the Americans possess over the people of all other nations . . . Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several Kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
Richard Henry Lee, Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, was equally clear.
To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.
There are more quotes to be found in the 1982 report of the Senate subcommittee on the Constitution that make this sentiment beyond clear. History, in politics as in science, is to be valued. The history in this case is incontrovertible.
The District of Columbia was wrong. It's refreshing to see a judicial authority interpret something correctly for once with regard to the second amendment. In yesterday's case, the federal appeals court stated
The operative clause, properly read, protects the ownership and use of weaponry beyond that needed to preserve the state militias. Again, we point out that if the competent drafters of the Second Amendment had meant the right to be limited to the protection of state militias, it is hard to imagine that they would have chosen the language they did. We therefore take it as an expression of the drafters’ view that the people possessed a natural right to keep and bear arms, and that the preservation of the militia was the right’s most salient political benefit—and thus the most appropriate to express in a political document.
There you have it. It's pretty obvious. So why are we still having this argument?