Because so few people actually understand the Second Amendment, and it is continually being brought under attack, it is worth considering the U.S. Supreme Courtâ€™s discussion of Second Amendment rights in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637, 76 USLW 4631 (2008).
In the Heller case, the High Court made the following observations:
â€œOne of the ordinary modes, by which tyrants accomplish their purposes without resistance, is, by disarming the people, and making it an offence to keep arms.â€ Consequently, one of the purposes of the Second Amendment â€œis to secure a well-armed militia. . . . But a militia would be useless unless the citizens were enabled to exercise themselves in the use of warlike weapons. To preserve this privilege, and to secure to the people the ability to oppose themselves in military force against the usurpations of government, as well as against enemies from without, government is forbidden by any law or proceeding to invade or destroy the right to keep and bear arms.
The Heller Court went on to say:
The first salient feature of the operative clause is that it codifies a â€œright of the people . . . [which] unambiguously refer[s] to individual rights, not â€œcollectiveâ€ rights, or rights that may be exercised only through participation in some corporate body. . . .We start therefore with a strong presumption that the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans. . . . The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it â€œshall not be infringed. . . . This is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second Amendment declares that it [is a pre-existing right that] shall not be infringed . . . .â€
According to the Heller Court:
During the 1788 ratification debates, the fear that the federal government would disarm the people in order to impose rule through a standing army or select militia was pervasive in [the Federalist/Anti-Federalist Debate]. The Federalists contended that because Congress was given no power to abridge the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms, such a force could never oppress the people. [Consequently], it was understood across the political spectrum that the right helped to secure the ideal of a citizen militia, which might be necessary to oppose an oppressive military force if the constitutional order broke down.
Quoting St. George Tuckerâ€™s version of the Blackstone Commentaries, the Court also noted:
â€œThis may be considered as the true palladium of liberty . . . . The right to self-defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine the right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.
"Shall not be infringed".