Nowadays, many Americans have strong feelings about our country’s right to bear arms; but politics aside, the 2nd Amendment played an important role in the founding of America. The average citizen faced a wealth of physical threats back in the day. Life was simply more challenging when English settlers first began building a home on the shores of the New World. Anyone that didn’t have a weapon to protect themselves probably didn’t live very long to talk about it.
Add a little context to your knowledge of the history of the 2nd Amendment and learn why the right to bear arms was so important to the founding of America.
The War of Ideas Before the Revolution
The events leading up to the American Revolution were filled with uncertainty, as the tide began to turn against the British and more and more Americans decided to take their fate into their own hands. Before the war got underway, the British tried to extend their rule into the new continent with a stateside militia, known as Loyalists for their unwavering allegiance to the crown.
When Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton began spreading whispers of independence during the 1760s, the American people began to see these Loyalists as more of a threat than a sign of protection. As a result, pockets of the country decided to organize and create their own militia, known as the Patriots.
Word quickly reached the King of England that the people of America were rallying their troops, arming themselves for a bloody conflict that seemed all too inevitable. In an effort to suppress the changing of the guard, the King decided to embargo all firearms, including parts and ammunition, to the American colonies.
In addition to cutting off the Patriot’s supply of firearms, the King instructed his Loyalist militia to disarm the American people. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over so well. Colonists stood up for their right to defend themselves by citing the Declaration of Rights, an Act passed by the British Parliament in 1689, protecting a person’s right to bear arms among a dozen other freedoms.
Balancing Newfound Power
This conflict eventually escalated into the Revolutionary War. The Patriots went to war with what was known as the Continental Army, a mix of regional and state militias. After the Revolutionary War was won, Federalists and Anti-Federalists disagreed over who should have control over the country’s new army. Anti-Federalists believed that the bulk of the country’s firepower should rest with the states, while the Federalists believed in creating an all-powerful countrywide militia that would be controlled by Congress.
The Founding Fathers engaged in a healthy debate over the issue, with a large portion of the country believing that a right to bear arms was a way of keeping unjust governments in check. The other half insisted that chaos would ensue if every town had its own regional militia that could rebel over the slightest disagreement. The issue became a double-edged sword. There was strength in harmonizing the country’s forces, but at the same time people were skeptical of big government and wanted to protect the rights of the individual states.
Ratifying the U.S. Constitution and the Birth of the 2nd Amendment
Before the Constitution could be ratified, the debate over gun control had to be resolved. Both Federalists and Anti-Federalists weren’t ready to budge from their respective agendas. The Federalists knew that they had to establish a powerful standing army that could protect America from foreign invaders, suppress regional insurgencies, and mitigate hostile disputes between the states. But the Anti-Federalists refused unless they could be assured that the states’ rights would not be infringed upon.
In order to win the support they needed to ratify the Constitution, the Federalists finally agreed to draft a bill of rights, adding a specific provision granting individuals the right to bear arms. That was enough to win the support of a few Anti-Federalists, enough to finally ratify the Constitution on June 8th, 1789.
Although the context has changed dramatically, today’s debate over gun control is not unlike the debate that took place between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists all those years ago. Regardless of how these rights are interpreted today, the 2nd Amendment doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.