Rewriting the Second Amendment

“They’re trying to take away my Second Amendment rights,”  say many gun rights advocates. But what do they mean by that? I doubt that a cogent expression of their thoughts would be:

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. (some commas and capitalization discretionary)

That is the official wording of the Second Amendment, and to many it is extremely confusing. Does it mean that individuals should be allowed to have guns in order to be part of a well-regulated militia? If so, is this militia supposed to fight on behalf of the government or should it be a “citizens’ army” to protect individuals from a too-powerful government?

Or is the militia component really superfluous, because the Amendment states, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This interpretation would mean that individuals have the right to bear arms, period.

assault-weapons-01-aAnd what about the arms? What kind of arms do people have the right to bear? This is not stated in the Second Amendment.  In fact, there is no hint as to whether there should be any limitations on the types of guns. And let’s remember that when Second Amendment was written in the late 19th Century, the firepower of the weapons was just a pittance of the strength of today’s armaments. Would the Founding Fathers have said that people have the right to bear nuclear weapons?

We must also keep in mind that, in the late 19th Century, most of America was rural. That was the predominant culture, and individuals had a more clear need for guns in order to protect themselves from dangerous animals and other threats that were common in isolated areas.

What to do now

The Second Amendment is confusing. Our national debate over guns is fought in the context of a great cultural divide over what role guns should play in our society.  What we need more than anything is clarity. Specifically, that means that we need a new Second Amendment.

Below is a proposed new Second Amendment. It will be more specific that the current one. The more details, the more choices there are to be made. So, this will not be a final version of the Second Amendment, instead it will be a broad outline. Perhaps this can be the basis of some further discussion on the Second Amendment.

1. Regulations regarding the possession or use of weapons shall be framed so as to provide a reasonable balance between the rights of individual citizens and the common good of the American people.

2. Individuals shall have the right to possess and use weapons so long as they:

  • Have not been convicted of a crime of violence.
  • Have not been convicted of a crime in which they were in possession of a weapon.
  • Have not been diagnosed as having a psychological disorder that would make them likely to use a weapon in an act of aggression.
  • Have undergone a thorough background check by federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms or it successor agencies.

3. The Congress of the United States shall have the obligation to pass legislation outlawing those weapons that it deems to be unsafe for society if they are in the possession of individuals.

4. States shall have the right to further refine those weapons that are permitted in different areas of the state. The states should recognize that in certain areas the balance shall be more in favor of individual rights and in other areas the balance should be in favor of the common good.

5. All levels of government shall have the right to pass legislation invoking penalties for individuals or groups that possess or use weapons contrary to this Amendment.

The city of Chicago has nearly two deaths by firearms every day. Many rural communities have not had a killing by firearms for decades. Our goal must be to make policy that is maximally responsive to the needs of people in different demographic and cultural communities. Rewriting the Second Amendment would be a good place to start.

Arthur Lieber Arthur Lieber (312 Posts)

Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.


  • berriesandblood

    Indeed!!!!

  • berriesandblood

    I am suspicious of the Founding Fathers…they were brilliant men but just how brilliant were they if they did not take the time to measure future progress? They seem to have foreseen other obstacles like the fine-line-power of a corporation…why not the progression of gun power?
    Sometimes I think the deliberate blurring of the 2nd Amendment came from people who were really not so brilliant afterall or who had a grander idea that may run contrary to actual freedom.

    All the 2nd Amend has done so far is arm people so they can shoot whomever they choose to shoot, divide a mass of people…half being giddy about weapons and the other half trying to find a common ground…..all completely unsuccessful up to date.

  • Arthur Lieber

    Thanks so much. It would really help if we could begin our conversation on gun control with the perception that the Second Amendment is too confusing to be the basis of conversation. In that case, gun activists would have to justify all the homicides by gun that we have in this country.

  • berriesandblood

    I for one DO talk about that very fact…but, most people want to argue and dismiss it…..repetition is my friend. :)

  • Arthur Lieber

    It’s a tough thing to do. I believe that 40 or so years ago more teachers considered gun control to be a norm and they passed that along to students. I wish that we had more politically progressive teachers now.

  • James Stephen

    The 2nd Amendment is not that complicated. It protects an individual right to bear arms. The militia clause simply gives one reason for the law being passed. (D. C. v. Heller) Back then, politicians believed they were accountable to the people and gave them reasons for the laws they passed.

    A militia is not a government organized military unit. The Constitution confirms this by treating the militia and the armed forces as two different entities. The militia originally was made up of all able-bodied males in the community who provided for the defense and law enforcement since there was no police force and the army was far away.

    “And let’s remember that when Second Amendment was written in the late 19th Century, the firepower of the weapons was just a pittance of the strength of today’s armaments. Would the Founding Fathers have said that people have the right to bear nuclear weapons?”

    Our rights expand based on evolving technology. Unless you think that because the internet did not exist in the 18th century, it is not protected under the 1st Amendment. Do not tell the NSA about this argument, they might use it as the basis to undermine our 4th Amendment rights.

    I reject your proposed 2nd Amendment since it does not offer adequate protection for the individual’s right to bear arms. It is interesting though that you bring up Chicago, they have heavy gun restrictions, the type you would probably favor, and yet disarming the people did not stop the criminals. On the other hand, rural areas have far more guns and yet they do not have the same problems. Criminals do not like to be shot, who could have seen that coming?