There are several versions of the text of the Second Amendment, each with slight capitalization and
punctuation differences, found in the official documents surrounding the adoption of the Bill of
Rights. One version was passed by the Congress, while another is found in the copies distributed
to the States and then ratified by them.
As passed by the Congress:
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.
As ratified by the 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 original hand-written copy of the Bill of Rights, approved by the House and Senate, was prepared
by scribe William Lambert and resides in the National Archives.
"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of
Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole
body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be,
on any pretence, raised in the United States."
--Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787
In this article, the Second Amendment is analyzed through a discussion of the history of the right to
private arms under English common law, the Second Amendment's legislative history and context, and
the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Miller. The article argues that the
private right of keeping arms plays a fundamental role in the constitutional system of checks and
balances and that the Second Amendment supports the twin goals of individual and collective defense
against violence and aggression. The article concludes that efforts to limit firearms possession to the
organized militia undermines these twin goals and that the theories behind such efforts do not
withstand constitutional history.
2. The enactment of the English Bill of Rights, with its guarantee of the right to bear arms, was a
reaction to the use of disarmament as a technique for economic or religious suppression. However, the
same protection was not extended to British subjects in North America. A basic cause of the American
Revolution was the failure of the Crown to grant the colonists all of the common law rights of
Englishmen,"' including the right to possess arms.
Patrick Henry, from the June, 1788 Virginia Convention on the Ratification of the Constitution,
including the Shall Liberty or Empire be Sought? speech:
"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel.
Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are
"The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun."