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.Now that the United States is protected by a trained, volunteer military force rather than a civilian militia, is the Second Amendment still valid? Does the Second Amendment exclusively provide for arms to supply a civilian militia, or does it guarantee a separate universal right to bear arms?
Current StatusUntil DC v. Heller (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court had never struck down a gun control law on Second Amendment grounds.
The two cases generally cited as most relevant to the Second Amendment are:
- U.S. v. Cruikshank (1875), in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an 1870 federal law punishing individuals for violating the civil rights of others, using the Fourteenth Amendment to justify federal intervention in law enforcement (which was generally left to the states). The test case was the 1873 Colfax Massacre, in which over 100 African Americans were murdered by the White League, a militant white supremacist organization that was extremely active in Louisiana in the decades following the American Civil War. Chief Justice Morrison Waite delivered a ruling stating that the law was unconstitutional. While the case had no direct relevance to the Second Amendment, Waite did briefly list an individual right to bear arms among those rights that would have been protected by the federal law.
- U.S. v. Miller (1939), in which two bank robbers transported a sawed-off shotgun across state lines in violation of the National Firearms Act of 1934. After the bank robbers challenged the law on Second Amendment grounds, Justice James C. McReynolds delivered a majority ruling stating that the Second Amendment was not relevant to their case, in part because a sawed-off shotgun is not a standard weapon for use in U.S. civilian militias.
The well-regulated militia referred to in the Second Amendment was, in fact, the 18th-century equivalent to the U.S. Armed Forces. Other than a small force of paid officers (primarily responsible for supervising civilian conscripts), the United States that existed at the time the Second Amendment was proposed had no professional, trained army. Instead it relied almost exclusively on civilian militias for self-defense--in other words, the rounding up of all available men between the ages of 18 and 50. In the event of foreign invasion, there would be no trained military force to hold back the British or the French. The United States relied on the power of its own citizens to defend the country against attack, and had committed to such an isolationist foreign policy that the chances of ever deploying forces overseas seemed remote at best.
This began to change with the presidency of John Adams, who established a professional navy to protect U.S.-bound trade vessels from privateers. Today, there is no military draft at all. The U.S. Army is made up of a mix of full-time and part-time professional soldiers who are trained well, and compensated for their service. Furthermore, the U.S. Armed Forces have not fought a single battle on home soil since the end of the American Civil War in 1865. Clearly, a well-regulated civilian militia is no longer a military necessity. Does the second clause of the Second Amendment still apply even if the first clause, providing its rationale, is no longer meaningful?