Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791. The first 10 amendments form the Bill of Rights.
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.
Right to Bear Arms: The principal debate surrounding the Second Amendment concerns whether the right to use and buy guns belongs to individuals or only to a militia. Although the courts generally have held that the right applies to individuals, they have permitted the government to limit some rights of gun manufacturers, owners and sellers. Today, questions about the Second Amendment center on bans on assault weapons, mandatory background checks, waiting periods, and other restrictions on gun sales or use.
With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment and subsequent Supreme Court rulings, states were prohibited from making or enforcing laws that infringe on most of the rights set out in the Bill of Rights.
However, this prohibition does not extend to the Second Amendment. This means that the Second Amendment applies only to actions by the federal government. It does not protect people from state actions that interfere with their right to bear arms. As a result, gun control legislation varies widely among the fifty states.
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The American Revolution was fought by minutemen, ready with their guns at a moment’s notice. Early Americans believed that a militia, composed of citizen-soldiers, was a better safeguard of their liberties than a standing or permanent army. Today the militia consists of the National Guard, drilling in state units. Does the Second Amendment protect only the right of the states to have militias, or does it give individuals a right to bear arms for self-defense as well as national defense? That question is at the heart of the debate over the Second Amendment and gun control.
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.