Baldwin High School
Does the Second Amendment Allow Ownership of Assault Weapons?
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows American citizens to own firearms for personal defense and the security of a free state, including guns deemed ‘assault weapons.’ The term ‘assault weapon’ is ambiguous and non-technical. An assault weapon is legally defined as various types of semi-automatic firearms, and any two of the following; folding or telescoping stock, pistol grip, bayonet mount, flash suppressor, or threads to attach one, or a grenade launcher (18 U.S.C.). However, the legitimate definition is ‘a military firearm that is chambered for ammunition of reduced size or propellant charge and that has the capacity to switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire’ (Assault). The Founding Fathers made no exceptions to the type of weapons Americans could own, and this vagueness undermines their intentions.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified on December 15, 1791 states, “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.” The Founding Fathers did not make any distinction to the type of weapon American citizens could own, and two recent Supreme Court decisions support this fact. District of Columbia vs. Heller on June 26, 2008 and McDonald vs. Chicago on June 28, 2010, both evoke the Second Amendment’s superiority to uphold the citizen’s right to bear arms over local, municipal, or state laws. District of Columbia vs. Heller involved a D.C. gun law that forced gun owners to unload and disassemble or trigger lock legal firearms, and preventing citizens from carrying weapons for self defense or other lawful purposes. With a 5-4 vote, Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion, and stated that self defense was a “fundamental” and “deeply rooted right.” The Court also referenced state constitutions ratified before and after the U.S. Constitution that guarantee the right to bear arms for personal defense. A joint congressional report issued in 1866 after the Civil War was another influence on the Courts’ decision. It said, “In some parts of South Carolina armed parties without proper authority engaged in seizing all firearms found in the hands of freemen. Such conduct is in clear and direct violation of their personal rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States which declares that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” (Oyez)
After the success of the Heller case, a suit was filed against Chicago for its handgun ban. In McDonald vs. Chicago, the Supreme Court overturned the Seventh Circuit Court. The majority referenced the Heller case and Justice Alito stated that the Fourteenth Amendment allows for the enforcement of the Second Amendment on the states. Both cases support the constitutionality of the right to own assault weapons for the defense of America and the preservation of personal freedom.
Responsible, armed citizens are in the best interest of any civilized society. Detractors assert that when access to assault weapons is increased, violent crime will rise (Keep). Immediately following the election on President Obama in 2008, sales of assault weapons and ammunition skyrocketed due to his stance on permanently reinstating the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 (Bohn). However, even with the economic downturn, which usually creates a rise in violent crime, the amount of murders in America decreased 8.2 percent from 2008 and the end of 2009. Not only that, but even with the increase of assault rifles in our country, the murder rate dropped to a 45 year low (Parker). In the words of John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things.”
The Founding Fathers explicitly stated the need to possess arms for a “well regulated” militia. Detractors assert that the National Guard is the militia referred to in the Second Amendment, and others say that only sporting privileges are protected (Levy). During the late 18th century, well regulated was defined as in working order, not under the authority of a government as we perceive today (Halonen). The founders’ purpose for a strong militia was an insurance policy in case the government ignored the rest of its citizens’ rights, as the British attempted to get away with. State constitutions and the English Bill of Rights ratified in 1689 supported individual ownership of guns. This view was paramount to our Founders way of thinking. Thomas Jefferson said, "The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that … it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; … " (Quotes)
The Constitution allows for the ownership of guns for personal defense and the security of a free state, even if the firearm is labeled an ‘assault weapon.’ Legal rulings throughout our history and the two recent Supreme Court cases recognize the intent of the constitutional authors and ensure that the right to keep and bear arms will not be infringed.
"18 U.S.C. Â § 921 : US Code - Section 921: Definitions." US and State Codes. Web. 15 Mar. 2011. http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/18/I/44/921.
Created: April 22, 2011; Revised: September 2, 2014