The Pragmatic Sophist


Rick Sorrels

Breaking down the Second Amendment historically

Recent events involving guns and dead bodies have triggered proposed changes to our right “to keep and bear arms,” a guaranteed right under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Debate has been intense, but legislative changes have failed utterly at both the state and federal levels.

The Constitution details the powers and duties of the federal government. The Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) guarantees the people’s rights that the government cannot infringe.

In fear that a future government might attempt to deny the people’s rights, our Founding Fathers intentionally made it difficult to change (amend) these rights.

The only rights that our Founding Fathers ranked higher were the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, religion and the press. In order to understand the importance and meaning of the Second Amendment, we need to review history and the intentions of our Founding Fathers.

We were a British colony. When our ancestors found that the oppression they tried to escape followed them across the Atlantic, they eventually rebelled and fought for their independence. The Charters for the 13 colonies, and later, our Constitution and Bill of Rights, were all based on English law and traditions.

Like all other countries of that time, England was an absolute monarchy, where the king had absolute ownership and control over all lands, chattel and the life and death of all persons within the king’s domain.

The feudal barons of England rebelled and defeated the king’s army at Runnymede, forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, which limited the king’s power and guaranteed the barons the right to “overrule the will of the king.” The Magna Carta is recognized as the most important document in the history of democracy.

King John soon renounced the barons’ power and Catholicism was reestablished in England.

England’s transition from an absolute monarchy to a democratic parliament was a long process with a lot of “re-dos.” The English Civil War ran from 1645 to 1651. The English Glorious Revolution of 1688 ended with the signing of the English Bill of Rights in 1689, with many provisions later adopted within the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

These were all recent events when our Constitution was adopted in 1787 and when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.

Only Catholics were allowed to own and carry weapons prior to the English Bill of Rights, and only Protestants after 1689. The religion in control wanted to make sure that opposing religions did not have the tools (weapons) necessary to unseat them.

In the First Amendment, our Founding Fathers forbade the establishment of a “state religion,” thereby trying to ensure against religious battles and influence over our government (like the English experienced). Religions, at that time, were more powerful than governments.

The Second Amendment guarantees the right “to keep and bear arms,” not only for hunting and protection from Indians, wild animals, brigands, highwaymen and thieves, but also to fight off invading armies and to rebel and reform our own government, if it should go awry in the future.

Writings in the Federalist Papers recognized that our progeny needed the tools necessary to rebel against the establishment, if needed, just as our Founding Fathers had.

State-of-the art weapons in the 18th century were the long sword, a smooth-bore muzzle-loading long gun, the long bow and a single-shot cannon.

Our ancestors could not have imagined today’s machine guns, chemical weapons, artillery and nuclear weapons. These modern weapons are all banned from private possession today, with Second Amendment Rights limited to single-shot (per trigger pull), hand-held firearms.

Gun ownership is deeply embedded in our psyche as a necessary “right,” so do not expect enough of our population to change sufficiently during our lifetime to meet the mandates for a Constitutional amendment.