Past and Present
The Second Amendment Dilemma – Social and Political Divisions over Gun Control in the United States
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. – Second Amendment to the US Constitution
Many interpretations have been made by historians in efforts to explain the actual meaning of this sentence. The text of the Second Amendment has been earnestly analyzed because, since the moment it was announced, it has excited controversy and created divisions. Two opposite interpretations of the idea have been developed over time: proponents of gun control promote a ‘collective’ meaning of the constitutional guarantee, while opponents insist that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, just like the other guarantees of the Bill of Rights1.
Supporters of each of these possibilities put emphasis on different parts of the text, drawing upon the same historical data but interpreting them differently in light of their present beliefs. For supporters of strict control of arms representing the so-called ‘collective’ interpretation, the phrase “well-regulated militia” should be stressed, while the opponents of government interference draw the essence of the amendment from the words “the right to bear arms” and also “shall not be infringed”. The latter stress the fact that the individual freedom of speech, the press, and assembly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights was central to the concept of the state and society projected by the Founding Fathers, and those rights could only remain secure if citizens could keep and bear arms.2 Such...
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