reply to post by bghanson
A Bill of rights well secured that we the people may know how far we may Proceade in Every Department[,] then their [sic] will be no Dispute between
the people and rulers[.] [I]n that may be secured the right to keep arms for Common and Extraordinary Occations such as to secure ourselves against
the wild Beast and also to amuse us by fowling and for our Defence against a Common Enemy[.] [Y]ou know to learn the Use of arms is all that can Save
us from a forighn foe that may attempt to subdue us[,] for if we keep up the Use of arms and become well acquainted with them we Shall allway be able
to look them in the face that arise up against us[,] for it is impossible to Support a Standing armey large Enough to Guard our Lengthy Sea Coast...I
think the man that Enters as a Soldier in a time of peace only for a living is only a fit tool to enslave his fellows. (July 9, 1879) (See U.S. v.
Emerson and Halbrook)
"The above is the only known correspondence from a constituent to a Congressman which explained the understanding of the proposal that became the
Second Amendment (source)." It is clear that Nasson read a broad personal right to keep arms in the proposed amendment, unconditioned upon militia
service, and that familiarity and practice with arms enabled the citizenry to effectively oppose an invasion or tyranny by a standing army.
For refutation of claims that "keep" was not intended to guarantee a private right to arms, see Guncite's "Is there Contrary Evidence?"
To Bear Arms
"Bearing arms," throughout the 18th century, most likely meant to serve as a soldier or to fight (including bearing arms against another man in
individual self-defense). Where the term "bear arms" appears, itself, without further modifiers it did not infer a broader meaning such as hunting
or the mere carrying or wearing of arms.
For example, Roger Sherman, during House consideration of a militia bill (1790) refers to bearing arms as an individual right of self-defense (against
other individuals) as well as a right belonging to the states:
[C]onceived it to be the privilege of every citizen, and one of his most essential rights, to bear arms, and to resist every attack upon his liberty
or property, by whomsoever made. The particular states, like private citizens, have a right to be armed, and to defend, by force of arms, their
rights, when invaded.
14 Debates in the House of Representatives, ed. Linda Grand De Pauw. (Balt., Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1972), 92-3.
Thus the term bearing arms was understood as not referring exclusively to military service.
Although without modifying terms, as mentioned above, bearing arms probably did not refer to the mere carrying or hunting with arms.
The Second Amendment as passed by the House of Representatives read:
A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the People, being the best security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms,
shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person. (source)
In the conscientious objector clause, "bearing arms" clearly conveys an exclusively military or fighting connotation, and thus it would seem "to
bear arms" also has a military meaning. Otherwise, we are talking about different meanings associated with the same word within the same amendment.
Highly improbable, especially since most of the framers were lawyers.
If one examines the House discussion of the proposed Second Amendment, it is clear that bearing arms could only have meant military service or
fighting. Quakers, as mentioned in the House discussion, were scrupulous of bearing arms. Quakers were allowed to hunt (source), but were opposed to
"war against any man" (source).
Further, the comments of Representative Vining (from the House discussion) show that bearing arms was synonymous with fighting:
Mr. Vining hoped the clause would be suffered to remain as it stood, because he saw no use in it if it was amended so as to compel a man to find a
substitute, which, with respect to the Government, was the same as if the person himself turned out to fight (source).
Note, the drafters did not use "keeping and bearing" in connection with the conscientious objector clause, although they obviously could have.
Some would argue that serving in a militia wasn't a right, but a duty. In the 18th century it was considered both, as the evidence from two state
constitutional provisions (source) unambiguously illustrates:
North Carolina (1776) (unchanged until 1868): "That the people have a right to bear arms, for the defence of the State..."
Massachusetts: (1780): The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence.
Comments from Tench Coxe provide further evidence: