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.U.S. Constitution, Amendments, Article II
As a direct corollary to the three human rights — life, liberty, and property — there is an associated right to defend the human rights, which includes the use of appropriate force when it becomes necessary.
It was accepted by the founders of the United States of America that people had the right to defend themselves individually and collectively. Following the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, this right was enumerated (with others) in the Bill of Rights.
Unfortunately, the final text of the amendment dealing with defense rights was awkwardly worded. Linguistically, the active part of the text is, “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The preceding text, stating that, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” was meant as an explanation for the following clause.
If we were to reword the Second Amendment into modern English with its original meaning intact, we might say: “Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
In addition to the linguistic evidence — not least of which being that the amendment explicitly says “the right of the people,” not “the right of the militia” — there is additional supporting evidence from the founders themselves. For example, George Mason wrote, “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few public officials” (Debates in Virginia Convention, June 16, 1788).
Each individual has the right to defend him or herself, and others, from threats against their human rights. It follows, therefore, that each individual has the right to obtain the tools that they may need to use for their defense…including firearms.
It is the responsibility of each individual, however, to use these tools safely and effectively. A failure to do so is rightly defined as a crime, and those who misuse their defense rights may have those rights (and others) restricted as punishment following conviction. The right to bear arms does not extend to the irresponsible storage or the negligent use of those arms.
Governments may also restrict the possession of arms by persons with serious mental illness who pose a danger to themselves or others. However, individuals with their rights restricted in this way must have robust avenues of appeal through the courts. Governments may also impose some reasonable restrictions on military grade weapons featuring automatic fire, or designed for use against vehicles and infrastructure. More on this in the gun control issues page.
It is never appropriate to use deadly force except when necessary, as a last resort, to defend your life or the lives of others. Because the right to life takes precedence over the rights to liberty and property, it is not acceptable to use deadly force in the protection of liberty or property. This is covered, along with war, on the right to life page.
As is clear from the wording of the Second Amendment, there is also a collective defense right. The people of a free country, possessing arms, may gather together into a militia for the purpose of defending life, liberty, and property from those who would threaten them…including those in their own government, should it become tyrannical.
This form of collective defense occurs as an ad-hoc or unorganized militia that arises spontaneously when human rights are threatened, and the ability to act in such a manner is the only effective protection against despotism. Without the ability to rise up in revolution against a tyrannical government, should it become necessary, the people are not truly free.
An Organized Militia
Aside from the ability of an armed populace to form into an ad-hoc or organized militia in the event of an emergency, it would also be beneficial for volunteers to have the opportunity to participate in a federal- and state-sanctioned organized militia.
Currently, no such organization exists. Each state has a National Guard, which operates in tandem with the federal military, and some states also have an independent state-level defense organization like the Virginia Defense Force. But these uniformed services are more analogous to a part-time, volunteer military than to a true citizens’ militia.
The U.S. Congress has the constitutional authority to establish such a militia:
The Congress shall have Power…To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;…U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8 (excerpt)
This organization would be a non-uniformed service. It would require some initial training, followed by an annual weekend refresh program. These would provide instruction in basic military techniques, firearms, and equipment. Membership would be open to any adult citizen, barring only those with criminal records or serious mental illness.
Each member would be issued a standard military-style select-fire rifle, which would be kept in the home but would only be permitted to be used at sanctioned training events and in the event of an organized or unorganized militia deployment. Like the National Guard and other defense organizations, this militia could be dispatched to provide other services in the event of an emergency.
The Second Amendment states that a “well organized militia” is a necessary component of national security in a free state. We should take its advice and get our militias (i.e., the people) organized and put to good use.