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2010 Third Place Essay

Ann Wallsmith
Baldwin High School

Does the Second Amendment Allow Ownership of Assault Weapons?

The meaning of the second amendment to the United States Constitution has long been under debate. The wording has left much room for interpretation, as was the intent of our Founders. However, to fully determine whether or not something is upheld in the Constitution requires a dive into the intent of the writers, and the definitions of terms and phrases used. The second amendment does allow for the ownership of assault weapons, but that, upon certain circumstances, these weapons may be constitutionally subject to strict regulations.

The second amendment 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 wording of this amendment provides two promises: One, that the right for states to retain a militia will not be taken away and two, that the individual has the specific right to gun ownership. The intent of the Founders at this time was to ensure that the new nation would be prepared and well-equipped should their English enemies seek to attack. After years of oppression, they wanted the Americans to be able to defend themselves freely. Tench Coxe, a Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Congress said, “Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom? Congress shall have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American ... The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the People.”

The militia is defined in Section 311 of US Code Title 10 as “…all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.” Section 311 also specifies that there are two types of militia: the organized militia (i.e. National Guard) and the unorganized militia, which is comprised of members of the militia not in the National Guard or Naval Militia. Assault weapons are defined militarily as “selective firearms (full auto-continuous or burst fire plus auto-loading) of sub-caliber.” Since assault weapons are critical in keeping the militia trained and ready to defend against other advanced nations, the banning of assault weapons would be unconstitutional, as it would infringe the rights of the states to have a well-regulated militia.

The other part of the second amendment deals with the right of the individual to bear arms. As decided in the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v Heller, this amendment to the Constitution grants gun ownership to individuals not involved with the militia, as long as it is used inside the home and for self defense. Passed in 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which states that assault weapons cannot be banned from those who qualify, expired in 2004 and has yet to be re-enacted. However, the Supreme Court ruled in the case McDonald v Chicago, that, although some restrictions such as total bans are unconstitutional, there are those that do not violate rights, such as the restriction against felons and the mentally ill from owning firearms. This ensures both the right of the individual as well as the safety of American citizens.

Efforts, such as those made by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, are being made to place strict regulations on all firearms, especially assault weapons. The Brady Campaign has adversaries like the Second Amendment Foundation, who support gun rights and seek to end many restrictions and regulations. Both views are necessary to understand the meaning behind the second amendment and how best to see it put into action as it was intended. In order to allow for the freedom of the American people to be carried out, the interpretation of the Constitution must be carefully reviewed. The wording and interpretation of the Constitution concludes that assault weapons cannot be banned. Additional legislation or an amendment would be necessary to change this fact.

The lack of any new legislation controlling assault weapons means that the original wording of the constitution must be upheld regarding gun control. The purpose of the Constitution is to provide freedom and safety to the American people. With freedom comes the right to bear arms to protect oneself and one’s country. Taking away the right of the people to bear arms, including assault weapons, would contradict the meaning of the constitution and limit individual rights. However, a critical aspect of freedom is safety. Therefore, governing authorities have the responsibility to always keep the safety of the people as a priority when determining gun rights. If they do, then American can continue to thrive as the land of the free and home of the brave.

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