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
For many of today’s gun advocates, the most important part of the 2nd Amendment reads that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” For proponents of gun control, the most significant part of the 2nd Amendment is the reference to “a well regulated Militia.” Since Americans no longer rely on state militias for their defense, they argue, then the original rationale for the right to “bear arms” is irrelevant in the modern world. For the Framers of the 2nd Amendment, however, probably the most pressing question addressed in this amendment was what would be “necessary to the security of a free State,” with the word “free” receiving even more emphasis than the word “security.”
From these standpoints many questions arise: Is the 2nd Amendment only meant to protect state militias? Is it outdated and essentially meaningless in modern society? Or is it also meant to protect an individual’s rights? Does it remain as important in the 21st century as it was in the 18th? And are the Framers’ original goals still relevant? Is it still important to arm citizens against the possibility of a tyrannical government?
For more than 200 years, these 2nd Amendment questions largely lay dormant. Then, in two recent decisions, one from 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller) and one from 2010 (McDonald v. City of Chicago), the United States Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment is not just about militias; it protects an individual’s right “to keep and bear arms.” Together, these cases are generally perceived as a decisive victory for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other supporters of “gun rights.” But the Court decided both cases by the barest of margins: five votes to four. And as so often occurs, the Supreme Court’s decisions created as many issues as they resolved.