The Complicated and Confusing History of the 2nd Amendment

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Executive Summary

  • The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution is confusingly written.
  • This article tries to clarify the purpose of the Amendment using multiple sources.


The 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is tremendously contentious in the US. Gun control is also the issue about the US that makes Europeans the angriest of any US issue. Meanwhile, most US gun proponents see the 2nd Amendment as being a cut-and-dried issue. However, the reasons for the right to keep and bear arms in the 2nd Amendment are not the normal ones given by gun rights advocates.

In this article, I will cover the phrasing of the 2nd Amendment, why the 2nd Amendment was crafted as it was, and finish with the most robust support for the right to keep and bear arms coming from an unlikely place.

Our References

See our references for this article and related articles at this link.

The 2nd Amendment

The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution says the following:

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 problem with the wording of this Amendment is that it makes bearing arms dependent upon a militia. However, very few Americans belong to a militia, and militias have been made essentially illegal in the modern era. They played a minimal role in the national defense since the 2nd Amendment was ratified in 1981. And this gets into a complicated topic, which the delegates at the Constitutional Convention mean by using the term “militia.” It turns out that is a hazy topic.

Militias were far more common before the establishment of the US than they were as time progressed. Today the major responsibilities of the militia is filled by a combination of the National Guard (responsible for internal order), while a very large US Military provides for the common defense. The founding fathers warned against a permanent standing army. However, this advice was ignored, as I cover in the article How Did the US So Completely Violated Its Own Constitutional Rules Against Standing Armies?

A Call For Patience!

As soon as I write anything that questions the modern applications of the 2nd Amendment, gun advocates immediately become agitated. However, I would ask for patience as the story is much more involved than relying on the 2nd Amendment for one’s right to keep and bear arms. Keep reading, and you will find out why.

Militia Quotes from Federalist No. 29 – Concerning the Militia (Alexander Hamilton)

The following is the logic given for militias by Hamilton.

THE power of regulating the militia, and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion are natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defense, and of watching over the internal peace of the Confederacy.

So here we have support for the right to keep and bear arms enumerated for the following.

  1. For insurrection.
  2. For stopping an invasion.
  3. For the common defense.
  4. For maintaining internal peace.

Hamilton lists four items. However, upon review, he has duplicated two items and done so twice.

  1. #1 and #4 are the same thing. Putting down insurrections and maintaining peace is the same.
  2. #2 and #3 are also the same thing. Stopping an invasion and providing for the common defense are the same thing.

Something that tends to be left out of modern discussions on the 2nd Amendment is that keeping and bearing arms was considered completely standard and unquestioned in the years before the Constitution was ratified. It was so accepted that it was never debated. Gun advocates and the NRA often state that they received the right to keep and bear arms from the 2nd Amendment. However, how can that be true if the right to keep and bear arms was established and accepted from the beginnings of the colonies? Another assertion is that the 2nd Amendment was required to protect these rights — but if that is true, why is that sentiment nowhere in the documents of the time or the debates over the Bill of Rights?

George Mason’s View of a Militia

Of all of the founding fathers that I could find that opined on the topic of what was to be a militia, George Mason had the most expansive view. This view and the supporting information around George Mason is so involved and an interesting story that I have the information in a separate article George Mason’s View of a Militia as All of the People. George Mason was a significant thought leader among the founding fathers. However, while I agree with Mason’s ideas and find his thinking superior to most founders, it is crucial to recognize Mason’s ideas were usually watered down. This is why he refused to sign the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

Why the Term Militia Was Chosen

The flexibility of the term militia and what each founder thought the term meant has been a constant source of confusion regarding the 2nd Amendment, as the following quote illustrates.

According to the Dr Carl T. Bogus, Professor of Law, the Second Amendment was written to assure the Southern states that Congress would not undermine the slave system by using its newly acquired constitutional authority over the militia to disarm the state militia and thereby destroy the South’s principal instrument of slave control. In his close analysis of James Madison’s writings, Bogus describes the South’s obsession with militias during the ratification process:

The militia remained the principal means of protecting the social order and preserving white control over an enormous black population. Anything that might weaken this system presented the gravest of threats.

This preoccupation is clearly expressed in 1788 by the slaveholder Patrick Henry : If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress … Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia.[123] – Truthout

This is strange to read, as I had never before heard of “slave control militias.”

However, while it may be true, all of the colonies, with the exception of Pennsylvania, as I will dive into great detail in just a little further into the article, had laws requiring their citizens to be armed — and this included colonies that did not have slaves. Therefore, the 2nd Amendment cannot be viewed entirely as to allow for slave patrols.

The quote continues.

That’s why, in a compromise with the slave states, and to reassure Patrick Henry, George Mason and other slaveholders to be able to keep their slave control militias independent of the federal government, James Madison (also slave owner) changed the word “country” to “state,” and redrafted the Second Amendment into its current form. – Truthout

The problem with only viewing this as a concession to southern slaveholding states is that the question of whether the states or the federal government would control the militias is a constant debate — and this is found in the Federalist Papers, which you can see in the article The Meaning of the Militia: Analysis of Hamilton, Jay and Madison’s Federalist Papers.

This is addressed in the following quotation.

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the framers knew the difference — see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason and James Madison were totally clear on that… and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states. In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. As Dr. Carl T. Bogus wrote for the University of California Law Review in 1998, “The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search ‘all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition’ and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds.”

Generally, though, she documents how most southern men between ages 18 and 45 — including physicians and ministers — had to serve on slave patrol in the militia at one time or another in their lives.

And slave rebellions were keeping the slave patrols busy.

By the time the US Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias. – Truthout

And here comes the logic for the use of the term “well-regulated militia.”

Another way to maintain slavery is the emphasis on the “well regulated Militia”, introducing the Second Amendment. According to Pennsylvania attorney Anthony Picadio, the Southern slave states would never have ratified the Second Amendment if it had been understood as creating an individual right to own firearms because of their fear of arming free blacks. – Wikipedia

There is another quote that is supportive of this which comes from Jefferson.

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” – Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Constitution, Draft 1, 1776

Observe Jefferson’s use of the term “free men.”

The quote from Wikipedia continues…

Firstly, slave owners dreaded that enslaved blacks might be emancipated through military service. Few years earlier, there had been a precedent when Lord Dunmore offered freedom to slaves who escaped and joined his forces with “Liberty to Slaves” stitched onto their jacket pocket flaps. Freed slaves had also served in General Washington’s army.

Secondly They also greatly feared “a ruinous slave rebellion in which their families would be slaughtered and their property destroyed.” When Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights on Dec. 15, 1791, a successful slave rebellion was roiling Haiti. So the right to bear arms was deliberately tied to membership in a militia by the slaveholder and Amendment’s chief drafter, James Madison, because only whites could join militias in the South.[126]

James Madison appears highly conflicted on slavery, as was James Mason, as the following quotation explains.

George Mason also argued the importance of the militia and right to bear arms by reminding his compatriots of England’s efforts “to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them … by totally dis-using and neglecting the militia.” He also clarified that under prevailing practice the militia included all people, rich and poor. – Wikipedia

Mason states that denying arms to citizens allows them to be enslaved, but he is himself a slave owner and needs to have the 2nd Amendment written so that his slaves and Southern slaves can continue to be deprived of the right to keep and bear arms. However, Mason also supported the abolition of slavery, and this was one reason he refused to sign the US Constitution. However, did George Mason really want to blacks to have the right to keep and bear arms. It is difficult to imagine that any founder wanted that to happen. If one were to have taken a poll, I think the most likely outcome would have been the founders wanting blacks to be sent back to Africa. Even Abraham Lincoln did not think that whites and blacks should live together.

Mason’s Inconsistency on Slavery

This is an inconsistency in the logic of Mason, and he is applying one standard to citizens (and using the analogy of slavery) and then another to actual slaves — but who he wants to be emancipated.

If slavery is wrong, and keeping people from having arms is a pathway to slavery, why did the US at that time have slaves? The standard answer is that so many slaveholders, like Washington, Jefferson, and Mason, had a significant investment in slaves. It was simply not acceptable at the time that blacks would be converted to citizens.


Getting One’s History from African American Academics?

Any person who works in an African American Studies department is only loosely connected to academics. Like women’s studies, African American studies have no requirement to be accurate or to follow the evidence. Rather African American studies is like feminism, based around maximizing victimhood and placing the represented group at the top of a victim hierarchy.

Carol Anderson, being black, only focuses on the 2nd Amendment as if it was only concerned with slave revolts. Everything else is left out. NPR eats this kind of stuff up. It is interesting to watch the above video for a while, but this woman is not a scholar. Again she works in an African American Studies department and is working backward from a personal “itch” she needs to scratch and then cherry picks the parts of history and assembles that history to scratch this itch. It is not that all of the history is false, but it is selectively used to fit the conclusion.

It is curious that this is the second academic I found from Emory University who produces inaccurate and cherry-picked work, the first being Bellesiles who wrote the book Armed America. I covered the problems in the book in the article On Bellesiles: Were Gun Ownership Rights a Minor Issue in the US Colonies?

What Carol Anderson won’t bring up, and can’t bring up as she works out of the African American department at Emory, is the inconvenient truth that blacks are responsible for 1/2 of all violent crime in the US, but only represent 13% of the US population. I performed a covariance analysis that found that the primary predictor of the murder rate in any state is the percentage of the population that is black as I cover in the article What is the Most Predictive Variable in the US Murder Rate. And as with other people that work in African American departments, the only focus of their work on slavery is in white countries, and the only race of people to ever be slaves were African.

And the following quote explains why a broad “everybody” or “every nonslave” 2nd Amendment could not be written. However, I am surprised that the Amendment did not adopt the term “free man” as was used by Jefferson in the earlier quotation.

This idea is extended in the following quotation.

In “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America,” Carol Anderson argues that the Second Amendment is not about guns — it’s about anti-Blackness. She says it “was designed and has consistently been constructed to keep African-Americans powerless and vulnerable.”

Anderson cites legislative debates from the Founding Fathers and a range of historical records to make some bold points. She says some early lawmakers who supported the Second Amendment were more worried about armed Blacks than British redcoats. She says that even after the Civil War ended, many Southern states banned Black citizens from owning weapons. And that famous line about a “well-regulated militia?” Well, that was inserted primarily to deal with potential slave revolts — not to repel a foreign army, she says. – AmRen

I don’t know about the term “anti-blackness.” If the slaves had been Chinese, there would have been a restriction to access guns. Would that have been “anti-yellowness?” An armed slave tends not to be a slave for long.

Any logical person would restrict access to arms for their slaves who intended to keep slaves as slaves. Carol Anderson makes it appear to be some type of great insight that a slave society would not want slaves to be armed. However, Romans slave owners did not want thier slaves to be armed. Again, as with other black academics, there is so much verfification before a hypothesis is presented. Carol might also want to check if slaves in Rome or in Africa or the Middle East were restricted from accessing arms, but that would undermine her hypothesis. Naturally, Anderson would first have to come to terms with the fact that slaves existed in these and even other parts of the world outside of the US. That would be too devestating for her to contemplate, and would undermine her objective — which is to race scam a white society by making up a fake history.

What is a Free State

What did the drafters meant by “a free state.” I had assumed it meant from foreign invasion. However, is it primarily a fear of a slave revolt? The Haitian slave revolt began in 1791 (but took 13 years to complete), which was when the Bill of Rights was ratified — which is a curious overlap in the timing of these two events.

Carol Andersen continues in the following quote.

The crafting of the Constitution was of primary concern for folks like James Madison because the Articles of Confederation were not working. And when they went to the Constitutional Convention, the Southern delegates made it really clear that they weren’t going to sign off on any kind of Constitution to strengthen the United States of America unless they could get the clear extension on the Atlantic slave trade, the Three-Fifths Clause so they could get more representation than they were due in Congress, and the Fugitive Slave Clause.

Those were the bribes. That was the sign-off for the South to sign off on the Constitution.

One can see the beginnings of the Civil War in this disagreement.

The Northern states saw one future for the country (although it was another form of exploitation, which was the exploitation of the Southern states by Northern banking interests), while the Southern states saw another. Looking at this, it might have made more sense for the colonies to form two countries, a South US and a North US. However, this also would have pitted the two countries against each other as each expanded westward.

This also illuminates several subjects.

  1. The Bill of Rights was not granted to the citizens out of the higher moral obligation of the founding fathers. They were given as a concession to prevent the Constitution from being scuttled. However, this is not how the Bill of Rights is presented, as, like the Constitution, it is revered.
  2. There are three primary purposes of the militia. As defined by Hamilton, one and two are to suppress insurrections, and the second is to provide for the common defense as the design was to have no standing army. And the third was to keep slaves in line. This makes sense. If you have a slave society, you need to police the slaves. However, I have plenty of evidence that slave patrols were only one reason for the 2nd Amendment.

The Need to Keep Firearms From Free Blacks

For the record, Thomas Jefferson had submitted in 1776 a draft constitution for Virginia that said “no freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms within his own lands or tenements”. Mr. Picadio wrote it was logically rejected because “it would have given to free blacks the constitutional right to have firearms”.

Yes, that would be another big problem. What if armed freed blacks helped free slaves? So not only slaves but free blacks also needed to be kept from having guns, as free blacks had allegiances to black slaves.

This is also found in the following quotation (which is not from Carol Anderson)

Laws disarming blacks were more common in the southern colonies. A 1680 Virginia statute prohibited “any negroe or other slave to carry or arme himselfe with any club, staffe, gunn, sword or any other weapon of defence or offence…”xcviii By May, 1723, however, there seem to have been enough free blacks and Indians in the militia that the law was changed: “That every free negro, mulatto, or indian, being a house-keeper, or listed in the militia, may be permitted to keep one gun, powder, and shot….” Those blacks and Indians who were “not house-keepers, nor listed in the militia” were required to dispose of their weapons by the end of October, 1723. Blacks and Indians living on frontier plantations were required to obtain a license “to keep and use guns, powder, and shot….”xcix Even the small number of blacks and Indians who were members of the militia were apparently no longer trusted with guns in public by 1738. They were still required to muster, but “shall appear without arms….”c Other southern colonies showed similar mistrust of blacks with guns. A Maryland statute passed in or before 1715 directed, “That no Negro or other slave, within this Province, shall be permitted to carry any Gun or any other offensive Weapon, from off their Master’s Land, without Licence from their said Master….”ci While less clear, Delaware‟s 1742 militia statute prohibited all indentured servants and slaves from bearing arms, or mustering in any company of the militia. It is unclear from the statute if this ban applied to free blacks as well.cii – Colonial Firearm Regulation

However, curiously, not only were blacks and denied weapons but so were Catholics.

Maryland provides a somewhat different example. Catholics were exempted from militia duty because, like Hutchinson‟s Antinomians, and blacks almost everywhere in the colonies, they were not completely trusted. In light of the role that Catholics played in the recurring attempts to restore the Stuarts to the throne of England, the distrust is unsurprising. In exchange for exemption from militia duty, Catholics were doubly taxed on their lands. As part of the same statute, members of the militia were required to swear an oath of allegiance to King George II. Catholics who refused the oath—thus refusing their legal obligation as British subjects to defend the realm—were not allowed to possess arms or ammunition.cvii Catholics settled mainly in Maryland. In other colonies, there is no evidence that Catholics in general were disarmed. Georgia provides an example of selective Catholic disarmament. At the start of the French & Indian War, British forces demanded that the French population of Nova Scotia swear an oath of allegiance to the crown. Persons who refused were forcibly removed to other British colonies. – Colonial Firearm Regulation

As were those that opposed the Revolution and were considered loyal to the Crown.

At the start of the Revolution, the Maryland government confiscated guns from Tories and others suspected of disloyalty to the Patriot cause. Yet even then, the owners received compensation for the value of their guns.cxlv Even disloyalty was not just cause for confiscation without compensation. – Colonial Firearm Regulation

Why wouldn’t the 2nd Amendment be motivated by the need to keep armed militias to address many threats? The Shay Rebellion was put down by the Massachusetts State militia and a private militia. And that had nothing to do with slaves. The Ohio militia was sent to invade Canada during the War of 1812. The militias supported the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. A militia has many purposes. Putting down slave revolts is only one of several reasons. But when the historian is black, everything has to be correlated back to blacks, because that is black scholarship.

The Maryland Law Against Discharging Weapons is Humorous but Educational

The need for such laws strongly suggests that the claim that guns were kept centrally stored is incorrect. A March 1655/6 Virginia statute, for example, prohibited shooting “any guns at drinkeing (marriages and funerals onely excepted)” because gunshots were the common alarm of Indian attack, “of which no certainty can be had in respect of the frequent shooting of gunns in drinking….”cxlviii Similarly, a 1642 Maryland statute also ordered that, “No man to discharge 3 guns within the space of ¼ hour… except to give or answer alarm.”cxl – Revolutionary War Journal

And it also demonstrates the concern about the Indian attack and prevents confusion between errant gunshots and gunshots designed to alert the citizens to attack by Indians. Were gunshots in town prohibited in Maryland as a gunshot signaled a slave revolt? No. They were a signal for an Indian attack.

The 1792 Militia Act

The 1792 Militia Act, passed only 1 year after the 2nd Amendment was ratified.

[E]ach and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia … [and] every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear, so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise, or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack.

The act also gave specific instructions to domestic weapon manufacturers “that from and after five years from the passing of this act, muskets for arming the militia as herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for balls of the eighteenth part of a pound.”

It should be recognized that this is not just an armed person. This description is precise. This is a military specification that I believe was provided to the drafters by a firearms expert from the US military. However, why this is the case gets to the topic of the purpose of the 2nd Amendment. Why the 2nd Amendment is so hotly debated.

Still, the 1792 Militia Act is not, and nearly never brought up as a discussion point, is another question about how much people on each side of the debate know the history of these items. Most gun control advocates and gun advocates are not aware of its existence.

According to this act, the US government viewed a militia member as provisioned like a military member. This would be, in modern terms, a man armed with an AR-15, M-16 similar variant (the rifle of the US Army), and several spare magazines. This is particularly interesting, as these are the types of weapons that many people want Americans to have regulated and restricted. But this is the arm prescribed by the US government in the 1792 Militia Act. There is no mention even of a sidearm in the specification.

The following quotation supports this view of the militia as essential citizens trained as a military unit.

An early use of the phrase “well-regulated militia” may be found in Andrew Fletcher’s 1698 A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias, as well as the phrase “ordinary and ill-regulated militia”.[191] Fletcher meant “regular” in the sense of regular military, and advocated the universal conscription and regular training of men of fighting age. Jefferson thought well of Fletcher, commenting that “the political principles of that patriot were worthy the purest periods of the British constitution. They are those which were in vigour.” – Wikipedia

But on whether the militia was under the control of the state, the following quotation is also informative.

Nowhere else in the Constitution does a “right” attributed to “the people” refer to anything other than an individual right. What is more, in all six other provisions of the Constitution that mention “the people”, the term unambiguously refers to all members of the political community, not an unspecified subset. This contrasts markedly with the phrase “the militia” in the prefatory clause. As we will describe below, the “militia” in colonial America consisted of a subset of “the people” – those who were male, able bodied, and within a certain age range. Reading the Second Amendment as protecting only the right to “keep and bear Arms” in an organized militia therefore fits poorly with the operative clause’s description of the holder of that right as “the people”. – Scalia (Wikipedia)

So was the term militia meant to describe a group that trained together and was a military unit, or was it code for white men only? As usual with this topic, it is not entirely clear.

Who Can Create a Militia?

The following case, which tested the right to assemble a militia, shows how contradictory the US has been regarded militias.

In Presser v. Illinois, 116 U.S. 252 (1886), Herman Presser headed a German-American paramilitary shooting organization and was arrested for leading a parade group of 400 men, training and drilling with military weapons with the declared intention to fight, through the streets of Chicago as a violation of Illinois law that prohibited public drilling and parading in military style without a permit from the governor.[68][212]

At his trial, Presser argued that the State of Illinois had violated his Second Amendment rights. The Supreme Court reaffirmed Cruikshank, and also held that the Second Amendment prevented neither the States nor Congress from barring private militias that parade with arms; such a right “cannot be claimed as a right independent of law”. This decision upheld the States’ authority to regulate the militia and that citizens had no right to create their own militias or to own weapons for semi-military purposes.[68] However the court said: “A state cannot prohibit the people therein from keeping and bearing arms to an extent that would deprive the United States of the protection afforded by them as a reserve military force.” – Wikipedia

This view is that the only legitimate militia is the National Guard.

The Preexisting State Constitutions Supporting Keeping and Bearing Arms

Another clue to the meaning of the 2nd Amendment is found in the state constitutions that preceded the US Constitution.

Before 1788, eight states supported the right to keep and bear arms in their state constitutions. Curiously, all of these arms clauses were, in my view, not only clearer in their intent to support the right of the citizens to keep and bear arms but were better in explaining WHY the right was granted. The 2nd Amendment we have today is not only inferior to all of these state constitutions but is inferior to previous versions or drafts of the 2nd Amendment that were debated before the current version was agreed to.

A few that caught my eye as mainly well explained were the following.

North Carolina

That the people have a right to bear arms, for the defence of the State; and, as standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power. – Wikipedia

This is so much clearer that the only reason for the right to bear arms is the state’s defense. The term militia, which muddies the water, is absent.


The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature; and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority and be governed by it. – Wikipedia

Notice that the paragraphs are nearly identical. It is unequivocal that the rights come from the common defense. One might ask why states would agree to ratify the 2nd Amendment if it differed from their existing state constitutions. The answer is they wouldn’t. Also, recall that the 2nd Amendment protects “free states,” not the overall country. The militias were to be state defenders. This is explained in the following quotation.


That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.


That a well-regulated militia is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free government.


That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

Now let us move to the laws regarding firearms in the colonies. These are even more descriptive and specific.

Connecticut’s Laws Regarding Firearms (Effective 1636)

Among the Colonial militia statutes, Connecticut’s 1650 code contains one of the clearest expressions of the duty to own a gun: “That all persons that are above the age of sixteene yeares, except magistrates and church officers, shall beare arms…; and every male person with this jurisdiction, above the said age, shall have in continuall readines, a good muskitt or other gunn, fitt for service, and allowed by the clark of the band.…” iv A less elaborate form of the law appeared in 1636, with reiterations in 1637, 1665, 1673, 1696, and 1741.v Fines varied between two and ten shillings for lacking firearms or for failure to appear with firearms “compleat and well fixt upon the days of training…. Colonial Firearm Regulation

**Those are not misspellings. The spelling of several words has changed over the years. 

Observe that this is not a law restricting gun ownership (to white men between the ages of sixteen and most likely 60) but was a law requiring firearm ownership. The penalty of not appearing with one’s gun when called upon was a fine. Observe the other colonies we will review had the same laws.

Also, note the dates of when these laws begin to appear. Some go back to 1638. This is roughly 30 years after the first colony of Jamestown was established.

Virginia’s Laws Regarding Firearms (Effective 1684)

Virginia provides another example of a militia statute obligating all free men to own a gun. A 1684 statute required free Virginians to “provide and furnish themselves with a sword, musquet and other furniture fitt for a soldier… two pounds of powder, and eight pounds of shott….”vii A similar 1705 statute required every foot soldier to arm himself “with a firelock, muskett, or fusee well fixed” and gave him eighteen months to comply with the law before he would subject to fine.viii There are minor modifications to the statute in 1738 that still required all members of the militia to appear at musters with the same list of gun choices, but reduced the ammunition requirement to one pound of powder and four pounds of lead balls.ix A 1748 revision is also clear that militiamen were obligated to provide themselves with “arms and ammunition.”x The 1748 statute, however, did acknowledge that all freemen might not be wealthy enough to arm themselves, and provided for issuance of arms “out of his majesty‟s magazine.”xi By 1755, all cavalry officers were obligated to provide themselves with “holsters and pistols well fixed….” – Colonial Firearm Regulation

Virginia goes beyond just stipulating guns and stipulating a sword and several accessories for the gun and more stipulations around ammunition.

Maryland’s Laws Regarding Firearms (Effective 1638)

Similar to statutes appearing in other colonies, Maryland‟s “An Act for Military Discipline” enacted in February or March of 1638/9 (O.S.) required “that every house keeper or housekeepers within this Province shall have ready continually upon all occasions within his her or their house for him or themselves and for every person within his her or their house able to bear armes[,] one Serviceable fixed gunne of bastard muskett boare…” along with a pound of gunpowder, four pounds of pistol or musket shot, “match for matchlocks and of flints for firelocks….”xiv A different form of this law, ordering every member of the militia to “appear and bring with him one good serviceable Gun, fixed, with Six Charges of Powder,” appears in a 1715 Maryland statute book as well.xv Cavalrymen were obligated to “find themselves with Swords, Carbines, Pistols, Holsters and Ammunition” with a fine for failure to appear armed at militia muster.xvi Of course, laws were sometimes passed but not enforced in colonial times, just as happens now. – Colonial Firearm Regulation

This is an important point. At the end of the 17th century, the inventory taken in Maryland showed that the actual number of firearms was woefully inadequate. A primary reason for this is that the colonies and states expected the militias to pay for all of this out of their pocket.

The quote continues.

Povisions for enforcement in Maryland would seem likely to encourage enforcement for purely selfish reasons. The officers of the militia were required to verify compliance with the law by “a Sight or view of the said armes and ammunition” every month. People who failed to possess arms and ammunition were to be fined thirty pounds of tobacco, payable to the militia officer responsible for the inspection. Anyone who lacked arms and ammunition was to be armed by their militia commander, who could force payment at “any price… not extending to above double the value of the said armes and ammunition according to the rate then usual in the Country.”xvii To make sure that householders moving to the new land were adequately armed, it appears that one of the conditions of receiving title to land in Maryland beginning in 1641 was bringing “Armes and Ammunition as are intended & required by the Conditions abovesaid to be provided & carried into the said Province of Maryland for every man betweene the ages of sixteene & fifty years w[hi]ch shalbe transported thether.” The arms required included “one musket or bastard musket with a snaphance lock,” ten pounds of gunpowder, forty pounds of bullets, pistol, and goose shot.xviii The Maryland militia law of 1638/9 was revised in 1642 requiring, “That all housekeepers provide fixed gunn and Sufficient powder and Shott for each person able to bear arms.”xix A 1658 revision of the law required “every househoulder provide himselfe speedily with Armes & Ammunition according to a former Act of Assembly viz 2 [pounds] of powder and 5 [pounds] of shott & one good Gun well fixed for every man able to bear Armes in his house.” A householder was subject to fines of 100, 200, or 300 pounds of tobacco, for the first, second, and third failures to keep every man in the house armed.xx In 1756, Maryland again made it explicit that “ all and every Person and Persons of the Militia of this Province are as aforesaid, not only liable to the Duties and Services required by this Act, but also if able to find, at their own proper Cost and Charge, Suitable Arms….” At the same time, concerned that those exempted from militia duty who were wealthy were getting an unfair advantage, it ordered that exempts were obligated to “each of them find one good and Sufficient Firelock, with a Bayonet, and deliver the Same to the Colonel or Commanding Officer of the County wherein he shall reside, or pay to the Said Colonel or Commanding Officer the Sum of Three Pounds Current Money in lieu thereof….”xxi At the start of the Revolution, Maryland still assumed that the freemen of the colony were armed as required by law. The Maryland Convention in 1775 threatened that: “if any Minute or Militia-man shall not appear at the time and place of Muster with his Firelock and other accoutrements in good order, … he shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding five shillings Common money….”xxii – Colonial Firearm Regulation

This is extraordinarily detailed information about not only what the colony required but also the fines. It is virtually lost to history that the colonies and later the US government compelled its citizens to own and keep in good working condition military-type firearms — or what would be known today as “assault rifles.” And gun advocates also do not bring this up, even though it strengthens their case.

Massachusett’s Laws Regarding Firearms

Massachusetts adopted a measure March 22, 1630/1 that required all adult men to be armed.xxiii Although this measure is not explicit that the arms were firearms, it is apparent that guns were not in short supply in Massachusetts, because within 15 years, the Colonial government had made the requirement for guns explicit, and had even become quite demanding as to what type of guns were acceptable for militia duty. An order of October 1, 1645 directed that in the future, the only arms that would be allowed “serviceable, in our trained bands… are ether full musket boare, or basterd musket at the least, & that none should be under three foote 9 inches….”xxiv Even those exempt from militia duty were not exempt from the requirement to have a gun in their home. A June 18, 1645 order required “all inhabitants” including those exempt from militia duty, “to have armes in their howses fitt for service, with pouder, bullets, match, as other souldiers….”xxv – Colonial Firearm Regulation

The last part of this quote is quite essential — because it stipulates a gun in the home for those not part of the militia. One wonders if this was primarily to defend the home, serving as another line of defense. In 1645 Massachusetts was a frontier colony, so this requirement could not have been a defense against Indian attacks on homes.

It is curious how well armed the Massachusetts colony was versus all other colonies. This might have influenced Massachusetts being the most aggressive colony in demanding a break with England. Even one major incitement before the Declaration of Independence, the Boston Tea Party, was in Massachusetts.

The quote on Massachusetts continues.

A May 14, 1645 order directed that “all youth within this jurisdiction, from ten yeares ould to the age of sixteen yeares, shalbe instructed, by some one of the officers of the band, or some other experienced souldier… upon the usuall training dayes, in the exercise of armes, as small guns, halfe pikes, bowes & arrows…..”xxvi The duty to be armed meant that even children were required to learn to use a gun. – Colonial Firearm Regulation

Imagine a law requiring children as young as ten years of age to be proficient with a firearm today? People would faint at the thought.

Delaware’s Laws Regarding Firearms

In 1742, Delaware required, “That every Freeholder and taxable Person residing in this Government (except such as are hereafter excepted) shall, on or before the First Day of March next, provide himself with the following Arms and Ammunition, viz. One well fixed Musket or Firelock, one Cartouch-Box, with Twelve Charges of Gun-Powder and Ball therein, and Three good Flints, to be approved of by the Commanding Officer of the respective Company to which he belongs, and shall be obliged to keep such Arms and Ammunition by him, during the Continuance of this Act….” There was a fine of forty shillings for those who failed to do so. While “every Freeholder and taxable Person” in Delaware was obligated to provide himself with a gun, not all were required to enlist in the militia, only “all Male Persons, above Seventeen and under Fifty Years of Age” with a few exceptions. The exemptions from militia duty are quite interesting. Quakers were exempted from the requirement to provide themselves with guns, from militia duty, and from nightly watch duty, in exchange for paying two shillings six pence for every day that “others are obliged to attend the said Muster, Exercise, or Watch….” Others were exempted from militia musters, but not from the requirement to fight, or the requirement to own a gun. “[A]ll Justices of the Peace, Physicians, Lawyers, and Millers, and Persons incapable through Infirmities of Sickness or Lameness, shall be exempted and excused from appearing to muster, except in Case of an Alarm: They being nevertheless obliged, by this Act, to provide and keep by them Arms and Ammunition as aforesaid, as well as others. And if an Alarm happen, then all those, who by this Act are obliged to keep Arms as aforesaid… shall join the General Militia….” Ministers appear to have been exempted from all of these requirements.xxxi – Colonial Firearm Regulation

This clearly states that although some men are exempt from serving in a militia, they are not exempt from fighting. And they must be armed. The logic for this in terms of a military benefit is obvious. The militia may be defeated or far from the homes — and these homes might be attacked. With the houses armed by non-fighting men, this still provides resistance. Reading these laws is fantastic. And it is incredible how much the US culture has changed from requiring guns to seeing guns as a problem.

Rhode Island’s Laws Regarding Firearms

There seems to be no explicit Rhode Island law that required every man to own a gun. There is, however, a 1639 statute that ordered “noe man shall go two miles from the Towne unarmed, eyther with Gunn or Sword; and that none shall come to any public Meeting without his weapon.”xxxii While not an explicit order that every man was required to own a gun, widespread gun ownership was clearly assumed. The Rhode Island city of Portsmouth did impose a requirement to own a gun in 1643, and directed militia officers to personally inspect every inhabitant of the town to verify that they had both bullets and powder.xxxiii – Colonial Firearm Regulation

This is curious because one might expect frontier colonies to be particular about gun ownership due to Indian attacks, but Rhode Island was a tiny colony cut out of Massachusetts. The likelihood of an Indian attack would have been low. However, even in Rhode Island, the requirement existed, and again, militia officers would verify that the guns were in working condition and adequately provisioned.

Pennsylvania’s Laws Regarding Firearms

Pennsylvania is the only colony that does not appear to have imposed an obligation to own guns on its citizens.xliv It appears that Pennsylvania‟s exception was because of its Quaker origins and Quaker pacifism. – Colonial Firearm Regulation

This pacifism was also manifest in Pennsylvania, being the colony most opposed to breaking with England.

I could continue with other colonies. However, I think the point is made.

  1. The colonies very much wanted their citizens armed.
  2. The responsibility to be armed extended to non-fighting men and children who were expected to defend their homes with firearms if the militia were previously indisposed, if their homes and cities were attacked, etc…
  3. These laws were not optional — they came with fines for noncompliance.
  4. These laws were enforced through inspection by militia members.

Why Is the Only Logic Presented for Keeping and Bearing Arms is for the Common Defense?

One might question why the justification provided by both the state constitutions and the 2nd Amendment is for the common defense. What about the right to personal defense? This was widely accepted in the colonies, yet it is entirely left of federal or state arms clauses. Carol Anderson’s point is that there were few restrictions on gun ownership in any case, and the 2nd Amendment is designed to address a specific case of gun ownership, not the general case of gun ownership, which was not debated.

However, how is the right to repel a foreign attacker or put down a slave revolt different from simply having the right to join the military?

Usually, that is not considered right, and it is regarded as an obligation. This idea is explored in the following quotation.

The American concept of a right to bear arms originated in England, in AngloSaxon customs concerning warfare. Historians debate when this custom began; however, Francis Grose wrote that King Edward the Confessor incorporated it into his laws in the twelfth century, while evidence exists that William the Conqueror continued this “feudal
system about the year 1086.”1 When Edward the Confessor spelled out the responsibility of bearing arms, it, of course, entailed arming the public for war, but also included using the populace to construct castles and fortresses “for the publick defense” and repairing highways and bridges during times of war and invasion. The right to bear arms in this sense served the state and not the individual. All able-bodied males age sixteen to sixty were obligated to defend their country during foreign invasion, internal insurrection, or other emergencies. As Malcolm notes, it was not until “the seventeenth century that the duty turned into a right.” – Jeffery Campbell

Also, recall, the citizens did not need an amendment for the right to keep and bear arms as it was already established.

So, is the 2nd Amendment meant to be a right or an obligation? Because the point of the Bill of Rights was to adjust the Constitution (so that it was not scuttled) and is supposed to be a list of rights for the people and the states (for example, the 10th Amendment delegates rights not stipulated in the Constitution to the states).

It was not supposed to be a listing of the people’s and states’ obligations to the federal government. However, the 2nd Amendment is a departure from the other nine amendments in that it is an obligation.

Considering the Timeline

Now let us consider the time period for a moment.

The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, so the Constitution was ratified three years later in 1788. And it was ratified in December of 1791, which was four months after the Haitian slave revolt. This means news of this slave revolt would have found its way to the founding fathers before the 2nd Amendment was ratified. However, it may not be entirely necessary to view this as a catalyst, as the US already had its own experiences with slave revolts, as the following quotation covers.

These extensive militias had become part and parcel of southern society. Two decades before the Revolutionary War, Georgia passed laws that required all plantation owners or their white male employees to enlist. The Georgia militias were required to make monthly inspections of all the state’s slave quarters. According to Professor Bogus, “The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search ‘all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition’ and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds.”

By the time the founding fathers got together to hammer out a Constitution and Bill of Rights, there had been hundreds of slave uprisings across the South. One researcher, Herbert Aptheker, identified around 250 rebellions or conspiracies involving ten or more slaves. The fear of uprisings by African Americans was very real. Many white intellectuals who opposed slavery—including Jefferson, Mason and later Abraham Lincoln—considered it impossible for whites and blacks to live together in peace. Jefferson compared slavery to having “a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” He predicted a race war if the slaves were freed, and a civil war if they weren’t. Such was the fear that both Jefferson and Lincoln had plans to deport freed slaves.

Blacks outnumbered whites in many areas, which meant armed militias were required to “keep the peace.” Thus, Virginia’s delegates demanded that the Bill of Rights include one granting white citizens the right to bear arms and form state militias.

Without slave patrols, the southern police states would have collapsed. And because southerners knew how strongly many northerners opposed slavery, they were worried that if the federal government controlled the only militia, their slaves might be emancipated through military service.

Such possibilities troubled southern slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason (the owner of more than 300 slaves) and Patrick Henry. Jefferson and Henry opposed slavery on principle, and yet opposed freeing slaves. They were definitely “conflicted.”

Mason concurred:

“The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practised in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless, by disarming them. Under various pretences, Congress may neglect to provide for arming and disciplining the militia; and the state governments cannot do it, for Congress has an exclusive right to arm them [under this proposed Constitution] …”

Henry again:

“If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress … Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia.”

His first draft of the Second Amendment had said: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

But Henry, Mason and other slaveholders wanted the southern states to be able to keep their slave control militias independent of the federal government. So Madison changed the word “country” to “state,” and redrafted the Second Amendment into its present form:

“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 Hypertexts

Slave Patrols

As for slave patrols, they have been curiously rather stripped from US history. They are described in the following quotation.

Slave patrols first began in South Carolina in 1704 and spread throughout the thirteen colonies, lasting well beyond the American Revolution. As the population of enslaved Black people boomed, especially with the invention of the cotton gin, so did the fear of resistance and uprisings by the enslaved. The development of slave patrols began when other means of slave control failed to quell enslaved people’s resistance. Punishment for runaway slaves, such as whippings and beatings, could be expected. More than floggings and beatings, however, enslaved people feared the threat of being placed on the auction block and being separated from their families. In some southern states, the militia and army served as slave patrols. In other southern states, slave patrols came about from colonial or state government legislation. Slave patrols typically rode on horseback in groups of four or five, sometimes even in family groups. Some states, such as South Carolina, required every White man, under consequence of forty shillings, to arrest and chastise any slave found away from their home without proper verification. After slaves were arrested and chastised, they were returned to their masters. Slave patrollers were compensated in several ways, including exemption from public, county, and parish taxes and fees during their term of service. In addition, some patrollers were paid additional sums with surplus money. – Wikipedia

The focus on being armed both as a defense against Indian attacks and against slave revolts are expressed in the wording of laws requiring white men to be armed.

South Carolina‟s 1743 confusingly worded statute required “every white male inhabitant of this Province, (except travelers and such persons as shall be above sixty years of age,) who [are] liable to bear arms in the militia of this Province… shall, on any Sunday or Christmas day in the year, go and resort to any church or any other public place of divine worship within this Province, and shall not carry with him a gun or a pair of horse-pistols… with at least six charges of gun-powder and ball, and shall not carry the same into the church or other place of divine worship as aforesaid” would be fined twenty shillings. Other provisions required church-wardens, deacons, or elders to check each man coming in, to make sure that he was armed. The purpose was “for the better security of this Province against the insurrections and other wicked attempts of Negroes and other Slaves….”lxiv A very similar statute appears in Georgia in 1770.lxv – Colonial Firearm Regulation

This quote is beneficial in understanding the logic of the lawmakers because so many of the laws declare the need for men to armed, but then it does not specify “against what.” Some quotes declare Indians as threats. This one declares slaves as the threat.

It is also curious that the role of verifying that men were armed was given to the church leaders. Imagine today if all men were required to appear armed at church — and that the priest checked with each man entering the church to make sure they were armed and to send them perhaps home to fetch their gun if they were not. Something else curious about this was that many men did not have a handgun (guns were much more expensive versus the average earnings than today) — which means many would have had to show up at church with an unconcealed rifle.

The Difference Between 1780 and 90s US and the US of Today.

In 1791, the US was primarily a rural country and tiny compared to today, which is made up of the 13 East Coast colonies. The population was mind-bogglingly small at this time, with the 1790 census counting only 3.9 million people. This means the population was roughly 1.1% of what it is today. This is a population of less than 1/2 of Arizona in 2021.

The nation at this time looked nothing like it does today. It was also lightly policed, with few full-time and career police officers. This meant that even more than today, the citizens would have required arms for personal defense. Secondly, hunting was widespread.

Why would a person on a farm not also have the right to keep and bear arms for personal defense? How about hunting purposes? Yet, none of these things are in the 2nd Amendment. The only listed reason citizens had the right to keep and bear arms is for the common defense (although Hamilton expands it to putting down insurrections in the Federalist Papers). Yet, Americans were using guns in a relatively unconstrained manner at this time.

This is an argument that the 2nd Amendment does not address the general right to keep and bear arms, which was widespread acceptance.

A More Enumerated 2nd Amendment

I would have written the 2nd Amendment differently, something more like this.

The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The reason is for this amendment is for a.) the common defense b.) for defense against enslavement by the US government e.) for personal protection f.) for hunting, and for other commonly accepted reasons not enumerated in this amendment.

This would provide an absolute right to keep and bear arms that would be less subject to debate. And it could probably be further improved. Naturally, the reason b.) would have to be wordsmithed as it is probably too direct. But of course, I am trying to write an arm-bearing amendment that looks out for the interests of the individual citizens, where the founding fathers decided not to place the already existing rights to keep and bear arms within the 2nd Amendment.

Anti-gun proponents would propose that if the 2nd Amendment is a special case of gun protection, and if the US no longer suppresses slave revolts nor relies on them to defend against invading armies, US citizens’ right to keep and bear arms is void. The problem with this is that firearms were so accepted as a right that they did not even bother to place the general reasons for these rights into a documented form. The founding fathers may find out current obsession with gun controls puzzling and not something they could have forecasted. As was stated earlier, the US was so different as a country at the time (primarily rural and agrarian with only 1% of the current population) that we cannot expect that could have predicted what the US is today.


The 2nd Amendment is presented as something that it is not.

Issue #1: A Poorly Written Amendment

The 2nd Amendment was not well written and is unclear. It is not possible to understand the meaning of the 2nd Amendment without triangulating it with extensive historical analysis. Other clauses, such as those in the colonies and even in the Virginia Bill of Rights, from where the 2nd Amendment was adopted, are more clearly written and better explain their intent. The author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, George Mason, refused to sign the US Bill of Rights, which is barely mentioned. George Mason was rejected signing the US Constitution because it did not have a declaration of rights.

Issue #2: A Poorly Written Amendment

It contained a hidden distinction between whites and blacks that was written deceptively to exclude slaves without coming out directly and saying it was doing so. It added to the deception by hiding the possible primary threat the Amendment was designed to protect against slave revolts. However, some modern WOKE writers have tried to make the 2nd Amendment entirely about slave patrols, which is standard black-oriented history, where everything is either about slavery or coming to terms with “the legacy of slavery.” Still, while ignoring all non-white societal slavery, including modern slavery, I cover in the article, Where Did African Slaves Come From And Where Did They Go.

Issue #3: Confusion on the Meaning of Militias

The term militia is confusing as it has been a continual argument since the Amendment is due to its different meanings. This means that different groups of people are very confident in using the term who do not know the background and do not realize that the term can be interpreted in several ways.

Issue #4: A Poorly Supported Amendment

After the 2nd Amendment was passed, there was no attempt to support the concept that would have been required. It cannot be expected that individuals would follow the requirements of the 2nd Amendment without some organization and also funding. The government wanted an effective fighting force of citizen-soldiers but was not prepared to pay for them to be armed or trained.

The 2nd Amendment shows a lack of follow-through on the part of the states. It seems unlikely that every non-disabled white male would have purchased the military “kit” recommended by the United States. Therefore, why was there never any plan for the government to issue the specified rifle and provisions to each of them?

Issue #5: Confusing a Specific Obligation to be Armed for a General Right to be Armed

The 2nd Amendment has been confused as giving a general right of firearm ownership to the population when it probably was a specific right in addition to the general right that was so accepted that the founding fathers did not even think to place it into the Bill of Rights. An amendment to allow for the ownership of firearms might have been viewed as strange to them at that time as to add an amendment that farmers had the right to farm their land.

Recall that before the 2nd Amendment, the colonies forced their citizens to be armed, some to fight and others to be armed to defend their homes. And those that did not comply could be fined. This is hardly a right. Therefore, how the 2nd Amendment has been interpreted as only a right is odd.

The Common Defense, Calling up Bannermen

The 2nd Amendment is not an innovation. It was the norm in feudal Europe where the civilian farmers could be called up to defend their king or, in this case, the republic and also to attack enemies of the realm.

The HBO series Game of Thrones does an excellent job of explaining the system of bannermen. The term is used several times in this scene. The economies of feudal Europe and the 1700s United States were far less productive and wealthy than the US economy of today. The dual nature of bannermen kept the military from consuming too much of the resources of these societies. 

It should be noted that the peasants did not look upon this as a right as much as an obligation. In addition to being exposed to mortal danger, it took them away from their farming and their families (leaving their families exposed) and increased their risk of starvation.

The Natural Solution to an Opposition of Standing Armies

This bannermen concept is reinforced by the frequent commentary by the founding fathers related to the risks of standing armies, which the founding fathers considered a risk to the citizens’ freedom. Why did they think this? Because they this had been the experience in Europe. Standing armies were not only a threat to citizens, but they were costly to maintain.

The founding fathers also added another amendment, the 3rd Amendment, to protect the citizens from exploitation by the military.

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Without a standing army, which they opposed, they would have naturally gravitated to “calling up their banners,” which is why they wanted to be trained and provisioned fighting men. According to Carol Andersen, these bannermen or the militia were more designed around putting down slave revolts than repelling foreign invaders. It is a bit grey as to whether the founding fathers were most concerned about invasion versus slave revolts, but such armed “bannermen” could be used for both purposes.

However, this is problematic to have included in the Bill of Rights because such a right is at least 1/2 an obligation. The Bill of Rights was not a series of obligations but the rights of the citizens and the states versus the federal government. However, if the primary purpose were to put down slave revolts, the 2nd Amendment would have been highly appealing to the Southern states. And the founding fathers had to make the Constitution and any modifying laws (the Bill of Rights) sufficiently appealing to all of the states so they would sign.