Thus neither the militia nor the right to bear arms provision can be taken in isolation as a sufficient explanation of the second amendment, a fact made obvious by the first Congress' retention of both clauses during its extensive paring of Madison's proposals. The second amendment therefore has historical interest which extends beyond militia and arms issues.
Hardy[*] The second amendment to the Constitution of the United States recognizes that "[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." That there is controversy surrounding the interpretation of the second amendment, or any provision of the Bill of Rights, is hardly surprising.
While the disputes relating to the first, fourth and remaining amendments focus upon their detailed application, the conflict over the second amendment concerns the question of its very subject matter.
One school of thought contends that the second amendment protects a collective right, a narrow guarantee of a state right to maintain organized reserve military units. This interpretation emphasizes the phrase "A well regulated militia being necessary to a free state," and maintains that the subsequent recognition of the people's right to bear arms is a mere restatement of this collective (i.e., state) right.
The other school of thought contends that the amendment recognizes an individual right to possess and use arms. This interpretation emphasizes the phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," and maintains that the preceding description of the militia (i.e., all individuals capable of armsbearing) is a mere explanation of one objective of this guarantee. The works of neither school entertain the possibility that an "either/or" test may be a gross oversimplification of what are in fact two different sets of constitutional priorities.
Yet the fact that prior to 1788 the Framers who proposed protections for individuals' arms did not propose to protect the militia, and those desirous of protecting the militia did not propose safeguards of individual arms, suggests the quixotic nature of previous attempts to demonstrate that the Framers, as a whole, had a single intent.
Is it reasonable to assume that John Adams, obsessed with the risk of mob rule, and Thomas Jefferson, who so lightly praised the virtues of frequent revolutions, were of a single mind when it came to popular armaments?
When Virginia constitutionalized the principle that a well-regulated militia was necessary to the proper defense of a free state, and Pennsylvania instead guaranteed that the people had a right to bear arms for defense of themselves and the state, was there in fact an identical understanding which motivated each statement?
Both existing formulations of the second amendment require us to assume precisely that.
As a consequence, no existing analysis of that amendment has attempted a critical examination of the proposals for the second amendment against the varied backgrounds and philosophies of their authors, and none has taken account of recent research demonstrating that the different state conventions were dominated by radically differing political philosophies.
It is the purpose of this article to suggest that in fact are correct, insofar as they purport to offer partial explanations.
The second amendment was not intended to recognize only a single principle; rather, like the first, fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments, it was intended as a composite of constitutional provisions.