In the early morning hours of April 19, 1775, seventy-seven civilian men and boys known as Minutemen, residents of a tiny village, Lexington, Massachusetts, stood in military formation on their village green.  Most historical accounts say they were there as a show of force, albeit a feeble one, or a show of displeasure or insolence.  Whatever their exact motivation was, the cause is not under dispute.  The colonists, who considered themselves fully British and owed full rights as Englishmen, had been in a heated political struggle with the Crown and Parliament for well over a decade.   In the early morning hours Paul Revere and other lesser known riders had ridden across the countryside informing the colonists of what was about to happen.  If you’ve been woefully educated on history as most of Americans living today have then you may not actually know what was about to happen.  The colonists were aware that the British were marching on Concord, a town nearby Lexington, to seize their supplies of gunpowder, shot and cannonball; in other words, their ammunition and any arms they encountered as well.

Nobody knows who fired the first shot that day but it became known as “the shot heard ‘round the world.”  As the British marched by Lexington they saw the insolent farmers standing there fully-armed.  This type of insult could not be permitted so the British faced-off against the small group of farmers and ordered them to disarm.  If you’ve been following along you will realize this was the entire point from both points of view; the British to disarm the colonists and the colonists to resist and not allow themselves to be disarmed.  Therefore, the colonists refused to disarm and disperse, and a shot was fired.  Both sides then began firing and the Revolutionary War, or War for Independence had begun.

This small bit of history must be understood to understand the 2d Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“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.”

Just about all gun-loving liberty-loving Americans know those words and have a vague idea of what they mean, but most don’t know exactly what they mean, or what they don’t.  They aren’t saying anything about self-defense, or hunting, or collecting, or recreational sport shooting.  They aren’t saying anything about those because it didn’t need to be said!  If you understand what IS being said then all of those other things are nested inside of the actual meaning. Before I get to the actual meaning let me set the stage for why and when it was written as well.

After the War for Independence was over we, as a nation were governed by a different Constitution, The Articles of Confederation.  However, the Articles were insufficient for governing us as a nation. Therefore, the States, (there was no federal government at that point) decided to have a meeting to address the problems, first at Annapolis, Maryland and then at what would become known as the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia.

Contrary to what most of us were taught, most of the delegates did in fact have permission to scrap the Articles and start afresh.  During the Constitutional Convention they discussed many things, but the core purpose was for the 13 colonies to decide on a course forward that would keep them united and strong.  They knew that they were performing well independently of one another on an innumerable amount of issues but there were certain ones that needed an arbiter, a referee with higher authority.  They also knew they had to balance their own authority as states with this higher authority they were about to create.

When they wrote the U.S. Constitution they specifically made a document that created the federal government and specifically limited it to a set list of authorities they knew states acting independent of each other could not do.  This list includes things like creating currency, creating and maintaining an Army and a Navy, negotiating with foreign governments, appointing ambassadors and creating embassies abroad, to pay the debts of the United States, to borrow money, to establish the rules of naturalization and to establish post offices and roads, to declare war, and more; according to how you count the list there are 26-34 different specific powers the states gave to the federal government.  The federal government was given the power through the judiciary to negotiate and referee disputes between the states as well.

We’ve now discussed two major things to keep in mind when understanding the 2d Amendment; one, the beginning of the War for Independence and, two, the creation by the states of the federal government.

By the time the Constitution was written it was supported by The Federalists, and opposed by the Anti-Federalists.  In summary, the Federalists promised the Anti-Federalists that if they would support it, they would pass a set of amendments immediately that would address the Anti-Federalists’ concerns.  The amendments that satisfied the Anti-Federalists and were a kept promise by the Federalists are what we refer to as the Bill of Rights.  The Second Amendment IS the second in that list of concerns by the Anti-Federalists.

[Side Note:  The Federalists weren’t against these rights whatsoever, they didn’t want them written down because they thought that if we wrote them down future generations and interpretations of our ‘inalienable rights’ would, in error, assume that was all the rights we had.  This concern has been shown to be legitimate as we can see today.  Contrarily, both sides, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists believed our rights to be so numerous as to be innumerable.]

Ok, so back to understanding the actual meaning of the 2A.  Here’s what I want you to be thinking while you read it:

  1. How and why the War for Independence began.
  2. How THE STATES created the federal government and limited its power to selfishly secure their own power and the rights of the people. (see 9th and 10th Amendments)
  3. How the Bill or Rights came to be and why.

“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.”

Its easier to see what’s being said now isn’t it?  The States had just finished setting down and creating a Federal Government.  One side said, wait a minute how are the States supposed to keep this federal government from getting so powerful they can just take our rights and those of the people?  Of course, they didn’t say it that way — they already knew the answer. They themselves had just taken part in an armed, heated 8-year war with their own government!  Moreover, the event that sparked the beginning of the war they’d just won was when their government tried to take their arms!  Like it or not, find it inflammatory or not, find it ludicrous or not, that IS the context in which the 2A was drafted and eventually ratified.  The reasoning didn’t even need to be spoken.  The question between the two sides was whether something so obvious should be written down.  One side believed the rights most likely to be abused by the Federal government needed to be put on parchment and the other side was afraid that if they put some on parchment that our rights would be interpreted as being limited to those written down only.   So, now read the text of the Second Amendment again:

“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’s my personal 2017 version of what I believe the States were saying:

States: “Since the people already have a right to keep and bear arms that right shall not be infringed by the federal government.  This would allow us, the States, to have well-regulated militias free of federal government influence since we may need that right for the security of our freedom.”

I hope its all much clearer now.  Our Founders and the Framers of the Constitution were doing their best to maximize the liberty experienced by each of us by limiting the Federal government into a small box and maximizing our ability through our states to fight the federal government back if it every became necessary – THAT is what the Second Amendment is about.

But inside the 2d Amendment is the presupposition that the People have the right to keep and bear arms.  Why is that assumed?  Because they would see it as absolutely ludicrous to deny the people the right to defend themselves, and the ability to practice doing so. Also the liberty to hunt, and the ability to practice required to be able to do so.  The Framers saw this as what we would today call a no-brainer.  Nowhere in the colonies was anybody very far from the frontier, there were no police forces, 911 operators, or emergency communications, no EMS and no radios.  These were a people used to fending for themselves, their families and their communities.  Since having these arms was a no-brainer, the ability to practice is as well; so that would cover the idea of sport shooting. Since the idea of limiting the keeping and bearing of arms wasn’t part of their thought then that covers the idea of collecting.  Self-Defense, hunting, sport shooting and collecting are all part of the same thing, the ability to fend for oneself and that is considered a presupposition inside or foundational to what the 2nd Amendment is actually saying.

Here’s a silly example.  Lets imagine in the future our Federal government is overrun by vegans.  Lets say a major political movement rises to make the eating of meat illegal.  So lets say a constitutional amendment is passed giving us the right to eat meat.  Then the opponents say what it actually means is giving us the right to chew, or to buy meat.  No, it means eat meat, the ability to raise it, hunt it, or buy it and then to subsequently cook it and chew it in order to consume it would all be things inside or foundational to what it is actually being said.

I hope the meaning of the Second Amendment is now clear in your mind because its important to being able to understand why the National Reciprocity Act as it is written is not as good of an idea as we wish it was.

We, the People and the States do not want to give the Federal government any more authority over firearms than they have already illegitimately seized, that’s an easy point to make.  The Second Amendment is limiting the power of the federal government and securing the power and liberty of the States and the People regarding firearms.

Firearms laws legitimately reside within the States, not the Federal government, that’s the ‘shall not infringe,’ part.  States are meant to and should be able to handle the issue as they and their residents see fit.  If New York wants stricter laws they should have the liberty to do just that.  If Montana wants much more lenient firearms legislation they should have the liberty to do that as well.  The Federal government has no legitimate authority to dictate to the States in this matter, that IS what the Second Amendment is saying.

Why do we all want National Reciprocity?  Because we don’t want to be subject to criminal prosecution if we travel and we do something regarding our concealed personal protection firearm that is illegal in a state different from our own.  I get it, I understand why we want it.  However, liberty is about not making the other guy do what you want but allowing the other guy the freedom to do it differently since its not infringing on your rights.

Liberty, and the maximization of it, is what our grand experiment at self-government is all about.  How much freedom can a people have and still have an ordered society that protects the liberties of its people?  Legitimate laws either expand liberty for all or restrict specific actions by one that will limit or infringe the rights of another.

The National Reciprocity Act as has been currently passed in the United States House of Representatives doesn’t allow states to differ, it demands uniformity, this in itself is not good and not constitutional.  For instance, ‘constitutional carry,’ or permitless carry would have to be recognized by all 50 states.  So lets say someone from West Virginia has a law enforcement encounter in Illinois.  The West Virginian would have no permit whatsoever because in their state none is required, and furthermore they wouldn’t be required to have one while in Illinois either.  Whereas, an Illinois resident having a law enforcement encounter would indeed be required to have one on them.  It would be forcing the people of Illinois to accept less than they as a people believe should be required.  If the people of Illinois wanted to accept West Virginians and their permitless carry they can do so through their representatives.  It is not consistent with liberty to force the people of one state to do it the way the people of another state believes it should be done.  That’s a different kind of tyranny.

In summary, I don’t believe the National Reciprocity Bill advances liberty.  It may seem like it but in the end it gives the Federal government a new way to infringe and it allows the voters and legislators of one state to tell others how to live.  Both of those concepts are anti-freedom and anti-liberty.  Freedom is messy which means we don’t always get our way.