The Constitution doesn't give YOU the Right to Bear Arms. Sorry!

by Steven Moseley in

Gun rights advocates often cite "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed" thinking it gives each of us the right to bear arms. Unfortunately, that's just not what the Constitution says. It's not YOUR right, or MY right, it's OUR right, collectively.


The Constitution uses "The People" in multiple places, in one way.

Constitution right to bear arms

This is an often overlooked, but important fact about the Constitution. "The People" is a common term used throughout the document, and it has a consistent meaning. Let's analyze each example:


1. The People in the Preamble

The Preamble reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Eliminating the "why" portion of this sentence, it says "We the People... do ordain and establish this Constitution".

The People in this case were represented by the 55 delegates of the The Constitutional Convention. This is a seemingly obvious and pointless fact. Obviously each citizen of the United States didn't individually ordain and establish this document. The People in this case were spoken for by a small contingent of representatives.


2. The People in Article 1, Section 2

Another example of "The People" exist in the main body of the constitution. It states:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States

This again very obviously indicates right given to the collective People: the right to elect representatives. Again, it is obvious that we don't each get to elect our own representatives.


3. The First Amendment

The First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note a deviation within the Amendment:

  • Religion, Speech, and Press are protected without reference to "The People", as if to ensure it is known that no two individuals may exercise those in the same way, but
  • The right to peaceably assemble is a right of The People, a collective right to protect the citizens' collective autonomy from the government.


4. The Fourth Amendment

Possibly the most damning evidence of all is the 4th Amendment. Let's review:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Here, an individual right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure is first expressed in relation to the collective "The People", and subsequently explained as an individual right with the addendum: "in their persons", and so on.

This added expression of "persons" representing individuals' rights to security very clearly indicates the framers of the Constitution understood the difference between collective and individual rights, and intended "the people" to represent the collective, while "persons" represents individuals.


5. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments

These continue the pattern of the usage of "the people" as a collective term.

The 9th Amendment reads:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The 10th Amendment reads:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

These speak about rights and powers belonging to the people. They state that 1) the rights expressed in the Constitution shall not infringe other rights of the people, and 2) the powers not delegated by the Constitution belong to the people.

Again, following the pattern, it's not "each person" who retains the powers not delegated by the Constitution. It's "the people" collectively who retain those rights, and who must organize to determine how those rights are commanded.


Now let's apply this contextual analysis to the 2nd Amendment:

The Second Amendment uses "The People" in the same way

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

Here you have another reference to the people. We, the people, in this case, have the right to keep and bear arms, in order to protect against the threat of tyranny from the established government.

Many have interpreted this instance of "the people" to mean "each person". However, I contend that it very clearly means the collective, not individuals.

Why? Read on!


1. The text doesn't reference "persons".

Based on the pattern of the 4th Amendment, where a right of the people is applied to each person, we would expect a 2nd Amendment giving individual rights to read something like this:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms on their persons or in their homes shall not be infringed.

We have seen that the Bill of Rights clearly expresses the specificity of rights when they are individual rights


2. The text tells us how the Constitution expects us to bear arms

The text very clearly opens with "a well-regulated militia being necessary" as the expressed reason for the right of the people to bear arms. This adjacency isn't coincidental. It's intentional. The framers are giving the people the right to arms specifically to form an armed militia. Why wouldn't individuals with guns be able to accomplish the same? Easy.


3. Unorganized individuals wielding basic weapons like guns cannot stand against an organized army with advanced weaponry.

Even in the days of Washington, cannons, ships, and other large-scale combat weaponry would have easily overwhelmed a disorganized contingent of citizens with guns. This is why the Constitution gives people the right "to bear arms", not "to bear guns". The people's militia needs weaponry that would be comparable to the government's.

Therefore, it clearly follows that The People, as a collective are given the right to organize and exercise their right to bear Arms, as would be necessary to form a military force that would be comparable to the Armed Forces of the United States.


NB: If you're thinking of Vietnam, Colombia, or Afghanistan as examples of the success of guerrilla forces wielding basic weaponry to hold off armies for years, be aware that 1) these happened after the Second Amendment was written, and 2) while these forces withstood, they didn't win, per se. They certainly didn't provide a resistance that would ensure "the security of a free State" as per the framers' intent.

Summary

There you have it. The right to bear arms belongs to the people, collectively, as a well-regulated Militia, which:

  1. can be entrusted with the Arms necessary to stand against the military,
  2. can form an organized, train rank of forces that can defend itself, and
  3. can represent the interests of the people, because it answers to the people, not to the government.

I think it's pretty obvious when you look at it this way. Individuals' gun rights are not even something the framers considered, and are another matter entirely, unrelated to the Second Amendment. The only purpose of the Second Amendment is to explain how the people, as a collective, might prevent a tyrannical government from overthrowing the established order.

In fact, per the Tenth Amendment, individuals' rights to gun ownership would be delegated to the States. What this means is the Constitution indirectly says gun ownership is not a Constitutional right, and States can restrict the privilege at will.

In closing, YOU don't have a Constitutional right to gun ownership. WE do, collectively. If your State makes it harder for you to own guns, they're well within their rights to do so, and if you have a problem with it, your only recourse is to move to a more lenient state.