The Founders of the American republic sought to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” as a fundamental liberty. They also declared a “well regulated militia” to be necessary to secure “a free state.” Passionately discussed today in the context of the gun control controversy, the Second Amendment to the Constitution has become a controversial enigma. But what experiences led the Founders to adopt it, and what did it mean to them?
In his latest book, The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, Stephen P. Halbrook provides perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle regarding that often-misunderstood amendment—the first truly comprehensive account of how the generation of the Founders of the American Republic viewed “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” from the pre-Revolutionary days through the passing of that generation.
“This work seeks to present the views of the Founders who actually created the Second Amendment,” Halbrook writes in the book’s introduction. “It is based on their own words as found in newspapers, correspondence, debates and resolutions. Generous quotations from the Founders are used to allow them to speak for themselves, thereby avoiding the appearance of re-characterization of their views.”
Although The Founders’ Second Amendment answers such questions as whether the Constitution’s creators sought to guarantee an individual right or a collective right, it also shows that the Amendment’s history is interesting for reasons that go far beyond its usefulness for resolving modern legal controversies. At last, readers have a lively resource that will enable them to fully comprehend the Founders’ understanding of what is necessary to guarantee, as the Amendment itself states, “the security of a free State.”