Power  /  Argument

Disarming the NRA

The Second Amendment does not stand in the way of better gun laws; the NRA does.
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However vigorously it promotes itself as a protector of the Constitution, the NRA owes its robust view of the right to keep and bear arms more to the rise of antigovernment sentiment on the American right since the 1970s than to the views of the Founding Fathers. The people who drafted and ratified the Second Amendment had military matters in mind. They were concerned that the federal government would abuse its proposed constitutional power to call forth, arm, and discipline the state militias. So they sought to limit the government’s ability to disarm those militias, which, in the absence of a standing army, were, as the amendment says, “necessary for the security of a free state.”  

The framers did not see guns, as many do now, as a form of personal protection against criminals. Muskets were too inaccurate and too slow to reload to be effective protection for hearth and home. Guns won constitutional protection because of their usefulness in fighting wars. Their social and political importance, coupled with their inherent dangers, was also the basis for eighteenth-century gun control.

What the NRA doesn’t like to admit is that guns were regulated in early America. People deemed untrustworthy—such as British loyalists unwilling to swear an oath to the new nation—were disarmed. The sale of guns to Native Americans was outlawed. Boston made it illegal to store a loaded firearm in any home or warehouse. Some states conducted door-to-door registration surveys so the militia could “impress” those weapons if necessary. Men had to attend musters where their guns would be inspected by the government.

View on New York Review of Books