Internally the situation was also precarious.  One of the greatest fears within the recently established American states was a possibility of internal insurrection. That fear had become a reality when, under the Articles of Confederation, the nation experienced in Massachusetts an armed rebellion, known as Shays’ Rebellion.  Congress, under the Articles, unable to respond with troops, the rebellion was suppressed by a privately funded militia.

One indisputable purpose of the Constitution that emerged from the convention in Philadelphia was to more effectively protect the nation from external, as well as internal threats.  

In the preamble to the Constitution it clearly states as a clear purpose of the union is to ensure domestic tranquility.

Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the authority to organize, arm and discipline the militia.  Reserving to the states the responsibility of appointing its officers and training the militia, as provided for by Congress.

Again, Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power to provide for the calling up the militia to enforce the laws or the union and suppress insurrections.

Article IV, Section 4 guarantees that every state shall have a republican form of government. It makes clear that upon the application of the legislature or the executive of any state the United States will provide protection against domestic violence.  

Hamilton was not only a delegate to the constitutional convention, but, as we know, he made an extensive contribution to the Federalist Papers.  In Federalist 9 he writes: “A FIRM Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection.”  

In Federalist 29 he again writes:  “In times of insurrection … it would be natural and proper that the militia of a neighboring State should be marched into another … to guard the republic against violence of faction or sedition.”

It did not take long before the national government’s powers to suppress an insurrection were tested.  Hamilton, serving as Secretary of Treasury under President Washington, in order to pay the war debts of the states had imposed a new tax on whiskey – used by cash poor farmers as a medium of liquid exchange.  

Farmers in western Pennsylvania, many former revolutionary war veterans, engaged in violence and intimidation to prevent the tax from being collected.  A force of 15,000 militia, provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with President Washington in command took to the field to suppress the resistance.  

Given the evidence, it would be difficult to leap to the conclusion that the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution in order to negate the intent of the framers to prevent or suppress rebellions or insurrections.

What was the reason for adding the Second Amendment?  The short answer is that it was one of the conditions demanded by the Anti-Federalists for ratifying the Constitution.  Having an organized state militia was a way to guard against maintaining at the national level a standing army. Many Americans, including the founders, were reluctant to establish and maintain a standing army, preferring citizen-soldiers, a militia.  The Constitution gave Congress the power to raise an army and navy, but it restricted the appropriation of money for that purpose to no more than two years.  

Was the second intended to extend to the states? Until the addition of the Fourteenth Amendment, the restraint of the Tenth Amendment was applied only to the federal government and not to the states.    This amendment, as conservatives correctly note, provided that unless a power had been specifically taken from the states by the Constitution it was retained by the states or the people.  There was and is nothing in the Second Amendment or in any subsequent Supreme Court decision that deprives the states of those broad police powers to regulate the health, safety, welfare and morals, including the ownership of weapons, of those residing within its borders.  

Would the states have allowed all of its male inhabitants to own arms?  Given the social and political tensions at the time – a constant fear of revolts and rebellions - the states would have been very reluctant to allow many of its inhabitants to own guns.   One must keep in mind that historically the meaning of words change, and the word “people” at that time was different, which excluded large numbers of the inhabitants of the states. The “people” were free, legally equal, property owning, white Protestant men. Many others (slaves or indentured persons, freed slaves, Catholics, Indians, transported criminals, political prisoners, Loyalist or Loyalist sympathizers) were not “people” and access to guns would have been problematic, most likely even restricted. This is especially true for Black slaves and bonded men and women, who were in fact at the time property.

In 2012 have things so radically changed that we would strip the states of their power to control access to weapons, especially military style weapons?  

As difficult as it is, very few, if any, would approve of permitting convicted criminals, the mentally unstable, potential terrorists (domestic and foreign), or resident aliens to own arms.  The last thing that any of us desire is to have people in black SUVs or pickup trucks riding the highway with automatic weapons attacking government installations and intimidating people.  

 

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