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2011 First Place Essay

Joshua Myers
Veritas Christian School

Does the Second Amendment Allow Ownership of Assault Weapons?

Of the ten articles of the United States Bill of Rights, perhaps none is more controversial than the Second Amendment concerning the right to bear arms. If the founding fathers could have looked into the future, would they have been more specific in their terminology, or would they have left the interpretation of the law up to each generation? Today we are faced with the question, “Does the Second Amendment allow ownership of assault weapons?”

The current debate over the Second Amendment can be clarified by determining why the amendment was originally written, and the circumstances surrounding those who wrote it. When the United States Constitution was in the process of ratification, Federalists feared that the Anti-Federalists, who opposed a strong national government, would oppose the ratification. The original Bill of Rights was designed to appease the Anti-Federalists by insuring certain individual rights would not be infringed upon.(1) The colonists, prior to the American Revolution, had been living under the authority of the English Bill of Rights. This bill included freedom from a peace-time standing army and freedom to bear arms for their own defense. Those rights had been severely abused by the British prior to and during the Revolution.

The Bill of Rights was based loosely on the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The Virginia patriots, who had tried to form their own militia as protection from the abuses of martial law imposed by their loyalist Governor, had suffered much at the hands of British soldiers. The destruction of the city of Norfolk by British warships and the dissolution of their House of Burgesses only fueled the Virginians’ desire to protect their basic rights from an abusive government. Thus, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was written to adamantly insure the rights of the citizens to bear arms for use in the construction of a militia for their own defense.(2) The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights was based on this concept. It reads, “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.”(3)

Based on the actual wording of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms is for the purpose of defending the security of a free state through the formation of a militia. Although the United States Army, formed by the Congress of Confederates on June 3, 1784, was already in existence at the time of the formation of the Second Amendment, the concept of forced military service as we now know it was not in place. Thus, military protection of all citizens was sketchy at best. Militias were civilians trained in military procedures, ready to be called into service to protect individual states.4 Weaponry owned and kept by individuals who had trained for service in the militia had to be comparable to weapons commonly used by opposing military forces. Current assault weapons, such as the military uses, were designed for military-style assaults. With the advent of our current organized military forces, more than adequate to defend all citizens, the need for civilian militias armed with military-grade weapons has faded into nonexistence. Individual citizens no longer need form into groups to defend themselves from large-scale attacks.

Today’s civilian assault weapons are generally categorized as semi-automatic with both a detachable magazine and a pistol grip. While differing from military assault weapons in that they are not fully automatic and can fire only once with each trigger pull, assault weapons are designed to maximize their lethal ability through easily controlled rapid succession firing.5 This type of gun is not the common choice for home protection, in that it involves more steps in operation than a pistol, and the speed and rapidity of fire can lead to over-penetration of walls, a risk for multi-family dwellings or room-to-room bullet penetration.(5) Assault weapons are not preferred by hunters because they do not typically have the effective range of a rifle.(6)

It could be argued that the banning of any type of weapon could be considered an infringement on the right to bear arms. Eliminating the legal right to own assault weapons could be argued to be such an infringement. However, upon reviewing the original intent of the Second Amendment, along with the current protection of a large peace-time standing army protecting our states, the argument that civilian assault weapons must be allowed under the Second Amendment is left without basis. Our right to self-defense and the right of hunters to be allowed to pursue their sport are adequately covered by non-assault type weapons. The right to bear arms is, therefore, not infringed by the banning of civilian assault weapons in this country.

(1) Bruns, Roger A.. “A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the U.S. Constitution” (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charter/constitution_history.html).

(2) Shaara, Jeff. Rise to Rebellion. New York: Ballantine Books. 2001.

(3) "Bill of Rights Transcript" (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html).

(4) Chambers, ed. The Oxford Companion to American Millitary History (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription_in_the_United_States).

(5) United States Code, Title 18, Section 921 – Firearms: Definitions. (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/ts_search.pl?title=18&sec=921), which contains a definition of the term “semiautomatic assault weapon”.

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Created: April 22, 2011; Revised: September 2, 2014