The Second Amendment is one of the most frequently cited provisions in the American Constitution, but also one of the most poorly understood.
The 27 words that constitute the Second Amendment seem to baffle modern Americans on both the left and right.
Ironically, those on both ends of our contemporary political spectrum cast the Second Amendment as a barrier to robust gun regulation. Gun rights supporters – mostly, but not exclusively, on the right – seem to believe that the Second Amendment prohibits many forms of gun regulation. On the left, frustration with the lack of progress on modern gun control leads to periodic calls for the amendment’s repeal.
Both of these beliefs ignore an irrefutable historical truth. The framers and adopters of the Second Amendment were generally ardent supporters of the idea of well-regulated liberty. Without strong governments and effective laws, they believed, liberty inevitably degenerated into licentiousness and eventually anarchy. Diligent students of history, particularly Roman history, the Federalists who wrote the Constitution realized that tyranny more often resulted from anarchy, not strong government.
I have been researching and writing about the history of gun regulation and the Second Amendment for the past two decades. When I began this research, most people assumed that regulation was a relatively recent phenomenon, something associated with the rise of big government in the modern era. Actually, while the founding generation certainly esteemed the idea of an armed population, they were also ardent supporters of gun regulations.
Consider these five categories of gun laws that the Founders endorsed.