The Right to Bear Arms: History, Pros & Cons

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  • 0:03 The Right to Keep and…
  • 0:31 History of the Right
  • 0:58 What the Right Means
  • 3:01 The Controversy…
  • 4:37 Importance
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the right to bear arms. We will take a closer look at the right to find out what it includes and what it means to society today.

The Right to Keep and Bear Arms

The right to keep and bear arms is defined as the right of the individual to use and buy a gun. This right, one of our civil liberties, is spelled out in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Second Amendment states, '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.'

History of the Right

The idea of the right to keep and bear arms was brought over to the United States by the British settlers that created the 13 original colonies. The right was included within the English Bill of Rights, therefore, making a specific legislation that the right to bear arms was not a power given to the monarch. When the United States Constitution was drafted, it was one of the first important civil liberties that was written in.

What the Right Means

Originally, via U.S. v. Cruikshank in 1876, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Second Amendment was applicable only to the federal government. This ruling, in essence, meant that the federal government, not the state government, could not infringe on an individual's right to own and possess a gun. This issue was confused more in U.S. v. Miller in 1939 where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal and state governments could limit any weapon types not having a reasonable relationship to the preservation of a well-regulated militia.

Can you see why this ruling created confusion amongst the public? Did the state government have a right to impede on an individual's right to have a weapon or not? The cases said two different things! And did an individual have a right to possess a weapon or not? By the way the second case sounds, it is only a militia or military that possesses that right.

This issue was cleared up in 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases of note. The first case was District of Columbia v. Heller, which ruled the individual expressly holds the right to possess and carry firearms. This landmark decision made it clear that the Second Amendment applied to the individual.

The second case of note, McDonald v. Chicago in 2010, held that the Fourteenth Amendment does, in fact, apply the Second Amendment to the states to the same extent that the Second Amendment applies to the federal government. It was now firmly decided that individuals were also protected from unnecessary state interference with their right to bear arms as the previously recognized protection from federal government interference.

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