Letter: Misreading 2nd Amendment
The renewed discussion over gun rights in America prompted by the Newtown, Conn., shootings is premised upon a distorted and mythical understanding of the Second Amendment, one promoted and perpetuated by the NRA and libertarian fantasies about American history. The founders never intended the Second Amendment to support an individual right to gun ownership.
Instead, from the earliest days of our history, the amendment was understood to refer to a collective right to bear arms in the service of a well-regulated militia. The militia itself was intended to suppress armed insurrections. In the 1794 tax revolt known as the Whiskey Rebellion, George Washington donned his old uniform and led 13,000 militia men to disperse 6,000 rebels who had threatened to sack Pittsburgh.
As this example shows, contrary to the views of libertarians and the NRA, the Second Amendment was never intended to support armed insurrection by citizens against the government. Those who make such claims are either relying on quotes taken out of context by anti-Federalists, or using spurious quotations from alleged historical sources. In fact, just the opposite was intended. The men who crafted the Constitution and our federal system were among the wealthiest and most powerful in the former colonies. They knew that the last thing a new nation needed was the constant threat of armed insurrection from malcontents.
In all the debate over the wording of the Second Amendment at our nation’s founding, there is no evidence that an individual right to gun ownership was ever considered.