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A Reason for Misunderstandings About the US 'Right to Bear Arms'

There is a great deal of confusion about the ‘Right to bear arms’ in the United States, particularly in other countries. It isn’t too difficult to explain it, though it sometimes takes some thought to actually understand it.

First of all, many people around the world know that the US is governed in part by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. However, many people, even in the US, don’t understand that the documents do not grant US citizens rights. Rather, they prohibit the US government from preventing certain rights that were endowed upon people by the creator before the US was even formed.

Thus, the second amendment to the Constitution is not the right to bear arms. 

The second amendment reads:

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.

The last phrase of this amendment is the operative one; ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ Although this part has been and is violated by a number of laws, ‘shall not be infringed’ is a reference to the US federal and state governments. That is, constitutionally, the government cannot prevent or hinder people from keeping and bearing arms. If they attempt it, the actions are unconstitutional.

The God-given, inalienable right that this government prohibition relates to is the right to life. In other words, we have the right to life when we are born and part of that is the right to protect ourselves in order to defend that right. The second amendment merely clarifies this to mean that we can use firearms to protect our own right to life. The wording shows that the right to bear arms is pre-existing. This also means that the wording isn’t obsolete and is valid now as it was when the Constitution was written and ratified.

The confusion for people in other nations is usually due to the differences in the form of Government.

Although there are plenty of people in the UK who don’t think of it in this way, all the people who aren’t in the government are subjects. The responsibility of protecting them against anything falls upon the governments those citizens serve. The citizens serve the government(s) and they have the freedoms the government decides that they can have in any given circumstance. The people have limited power under this system and can certainly vote some people into office, but those people then control what the people can and cannot do.

It is substantially different in the US. In the US, the people are free and the government exists to serve the people. If the constitution and bill of rights are followed, it is the people who control the government, not the other way around. Thus, the constitution was written to prohibit the government from controlling the people. The second amendment tells the government what it cannot do, it doesn’t tell the citizens what they can do. The right to life was already there and the government is forbidden from infringing on that right. 

Most of the confusion people in other countries have is one of the different governments. In other countries, the subjects serve the government. In the US, the government is designed to serve the people.

  • Question of

    Does this help you to understand what the second amendment is about?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question of

    Have you thought before of the difference between the people serving the government and the government serving the people?

    • Yes
    • No


What do you think?

13 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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  1. I will say what Carol said. Very diplomatic answer. I also am glad to have this right. And I am a darn good shot too. The only thing I have needed one for is to shoot down the clumps of mistletoe for Xmas, and a few snakes.

    • You’re right. I have the opinion that it is far better to have a tool and to never need to use it than to not have the tool and to have a vital need for it. That is especially true when lives are at stake, including those of my family and my own.

        • Same here. Both of my parents were excellent shots and they taught all four of us kids not only how to use the tool but also how to respect it. It is humorous now, but the first two years that I went hunting, I had to carry a wooden replica that fired only imaginary bullets. That was to teach respect and responsibility. Only when they were certain that I knew what to do and what not to do was I allowed to use the real thing.

          My father also taught hunter-safety courses, so it wasn’t just my siblings and me who learned how to use the tool properly. The funny part is that my mother was a better shot than my father, and he was also a gun collector.

          • That’s a good idea, a wooden replica. When I was finally ready to shoot, he handed me an old Winchester 410. I knew how to hold rifle and shoot as I had been doing this with the 22 on targets. I will never forget that. It knocked me on my back, and I can still feel that bruise. Respect yes..

        • Yep, a 410 has a wee bit stronger kick than a .22. For a long time, we had a 410/.22 over and under. I don’t know whatever happened to it.

          A friend who was a shooting fanatic was allowed to shoot his dad’s antique 4 gauge shotgun once. After they sort of figuratively scraped him off the ground, his dad told him that the butt was supposed to be held up against a tree or something similar, *not* a shoulder. It did humble the guy in a hurry, though.

    • You are quite welcome. Unfortunately, there are still people who don’t understand it or refuse to understand it. That even includes some people who live in the US. They tend to make claims that aren’t true, so my tendency is to simply ignore them. trying to reason with someone who won’t accept reason is an exercise in futility. 🙂

  2. I agree with you, but people seem to think that the right to bear arms means that they can also just go out and kill anything including people. I think you are to protect yourself, but only when threatened by others. Hunters are the only ones that should have guns to enjoy their sport and getting food to boot.

    • That is completely correct. The right to life means people who don’t own guns, too. Murder is illegal, by exactly that reasoning. People don’t have the right to shoot up the belongings of other people. They don’t have the right to murder. They do have the right to protect themselves. That actually extends to hunting as a means to procure food and thus, protect their life.

  3. I have lots of problems with that 2nd Amendment, and its very existence is one reason why I take great pleasure in not being American!

    For one thing, it is the only Amendment that comes with a conditional clause – that bit about a “well-regulated militia”! It is simply not true that a well-regulated is necessary to the security of a free state in the modern world. We have professional forces to do that for us. That being so, the logic of the Amendment makes it patently clear that there is no reason for individuals to have the right to bear arms.

    Also, where does the word “firearms” appear”? It just says “arms”. If you think that that entitles individuals to possess any sort of weapon, you could own your own chieftain tank with the government’s permission!

    No – I much prefer the absolute ban on personal firearms that pertains in the UK, with the much, much lower rate of gun crime that we have here than in the United States.

    • A “well-regulated militia” isn’t a conditional clause, it is a perfunctory clause. If the phrase isn’t there, the amendment means exactly the same. Numerous framers of the amendment also made it abundantly clear that ‘well-regulated militia’ was referring to American citizens in general. The “free state” that is referred to is the government that serves the people rather than the government whom the people are servants or subjects of. That is understandable because when it was written, America had just escaped such a tyrannical government. They were steadfastly determined not to let it happen again.

      The framers also wrote quite a few letters, notes, and other mentions that made it clear that “arms” referred to anything that is used for protection. That includes guns, other firearms, knives, swords, clubs, or just about anything related. In that period of time, “arms” was widely used and understood to mean firearms, but it also meant a lot more. Technically, by the meaning of the constitutional amendment, a person isn’t precluded from owning a canon.

      I much prefer the US laws, with a much lower incidence of violent crime and a lower murder rate, lower rape rate, and so forth. The gun control laws in the UK simply seem to have forced people to turn to other means of violence. It didn’t stop the violence itself. Not surprising, since the violence has been with us since before the Greek or Roman Empires.

      Still, if people in the UK are comfortable with their subject status and the gun laws they have, I’m all for them. It wouldn’t work in the US, but it is a different form of government.

      • I do love the way that people will twist language to make it mean what they want it to mean, as opposed to what it clearly means when read by the average speaker of English!

        How on earth can “a well-regulated militia” mean the population in general? One can see precisely why the words were there in the first place – it was so that people could belong to “minute-men” groups that would leap to the defence of their community were it to be threatened by an outside force. To be effective, they would need to be trained and under clear leadership, obeying agreed rules. In other words – well-regulated. That is a world away from saying that individuals can have guns in their personal possession for any purpose that takes their fancy.

        How can you say that the US has a lower murder rate than other western countries? Just look at the figures – the rate per 100,000 in the United States is 5.3, in the United Kingdom it is 1.2.

        The UK’s gun control laws have prevented mass murders of the kind that have bedeviled the United States for decades. OK – you can kill somebody with a knife, but you can’t kill 10 or more people at a time. Armed with a semi-automatic gun you can walk into a school and do precisely that, and we know of plenty of examples in recent history – none of them in the United Kingdom since the current gun laws were introduced.

        By taking guns out of society you can have a police force that is not routinely armed and in which terrible cases of cops killing car-drivers who are wrongly imagined to be reaching for a gun do not happen.

        Yes – it is a different form of government that we have in the UK, and I am mightily glad that we have it. It is government of the people, by the people and for the people – now who was it who said that?

        • I should also have added that to dismiss the introductory clause as “perfunctory” simply will not wash. Why is it there in that case? In what other statement of similar phrasing would you apply that principle?

          “It’s a hot day and I’m in a good mood, you can go to the shop and buy an ice cream” does not give the child who hears this carte blanche to buy an ice cream whenever he or she feels like it.

          No. The 2nd Amendment clearly gives a reason why there is a right to bear arms. Take away that reason and the right disappears as well. That is called logic, and there is no getting round the laws of logic!


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