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What does America's Second Amendment really mean?

December 18th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is the section of the Bill of Rights that enshrines American's right to keep and bear arms, or weapons.

CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin examined this text in the wake of the latest mass shooting in the United 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."

For 100 years, the Supreme Court said that the second part of the text had nothing to do with individuals' rights to bear arms, according to Toobin. But four years ago, the Supreme Court, in a case called “Heller,” said the Second Amendment does mean that individuals have the right to a handgun at home.

What is not clear is how much more Americans have a right to: whether they have a right to handguns in the streets, whether they have a right to machine guns, semi-automatic weapons. But handguns at home, at least, are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

MORE: Shell-shocked U.S. Senator and gun supporter: ‘Time to change gun culture’


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soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Ian

    Perhaps all gun owners should be a member of a "well regulated militia" requiring that they attend drills and training every month?

    December 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Reply
    • Fnordz

      Perhaps you should look up what "well-regulated militia" meant at the time it was written?

      December 19, 2012 at 11:57 am | Reply
      • Jgetson

        then maybe the "arms" that individuals have the right to bear... should be also be relevent to the period... single-shot, muzzle-loaded, blackpower, a sharpened stick, or a sickle.

        January 18, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Rob

      According to the United States Militia code, we are. All males between the age of 17 and 45 are part of the militia. Add in recent laws against age and gender discrimination and everyone over 17 is a member of the militia.

      December 20, 2012 at 11:04 am | Reply
      • Sean

        Rob 1 Ian 0

        January 29, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  2. pap

    TO own a hand gun in Australia, you have to be part of a club and they have to vouch for you.
    To do that, you need to turn up every month for practive and meeting.
    If you miss your meetings, you loose your licence.

    December 19, 2012 at 1:35 am | Reply
    • Jeff

      Good for Australia.

      December 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  3. Paul Elkins

    What the 2nd Amendment says is that as there is a need for a militia, people need to and have the right to own guns so that they can be part of that militia. When the US govt started creating anarmy, navy, police departments, etc., these groups took over the role of the "militia". This also means that there should no longer been a need, or right, for individuals to own guns. It is simple.

    December 19, 2012 at 6:03 am | Reply
    • Steve Life

      News articles of the past 200 years say you are wrong. The 2A has two parts. The second part is to prevent the government from taking private arms. It was specifically put in because of what the British did in the revolutionary war. 2A allows private citizens to form a militia to protect themselves from a tyrannous government.

      December 19, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
      • JVR

        If this 2A's real intention is to allows private citizens to form a militia to protect themselves from a tyrannous government wouldn't it be time to allow private citizens to arm themselves with a bit more heavy arms than the toys they can buy now. I mean, what do you do with (semi-) automatic riffles against an army that has tanks, fighter planes and even nuclear arms? Wouldn't it be time to update the 2A to include some more serious modern arms (tanks, fighter planes and even nuclear arms) so that this "militia" actually has a chance to protect themselves...?

        Or are we all being a bit silly here...?

        December 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
      • Anne

        The citizenry no longer needs to be protected from the tyranny of a government because we have a system of checks and balances that prevents one arm of the government from becoming too strong. What most of you don't seem to unmderstand is that these words were written over 200 years ago. People at that time needed guns to hunt food and protect their families from wild animals and wilder people. It is time to stop living in the dark ages and join the 21st century. We have police and the military to protect us, NO ONE in this country needs an assault rifle.

        December 20, 2012 at 11:32 am |
      • Dave

        To Anne: Are you really that ignorant of your surroundings??
        Here's a quote for you to think about: "Gun control: The theory that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her panty hose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound." — L. Neil Smith
        --–

        December 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
      • Jeff

        JVR – read the Miller decision regarding a sawed off shotgun. The Supreme Court decided that gun control on a large number of guns was legal, because they had no military purpose, and the 2A applied to military weaponry. I.e., the protection applied to weaponry one would use as an individual and could reasonably be expected to procure and maintain on one's own, to match what an individual foot soldier in a standing army would have.

        Also, to many of us, where we draw the line is here. I don't see an AR15 as inherently any more dangerous than any other semi-automatic weapon out there. In all honesty, I'd rather go up against a kid firing an AR for the first time than an older gentleman with a lever action that has been shooting cowboy sports his entire life. Fastest revolver shooter can get off 12 aimed shots including a reload in around 2 seconds, I challenge someone shooting a semi-auto pistol to even do that. Semi autos aren't any more dangerous in trained hands...

        December 20, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Bob Henrich

      Paul,
      I understand your arguement and have made the same point myself. However, where does one draw the line on consitutional issues? The framers could not envision 21st century tecnology like the internet. Should we then limit and modify freedom of speech?

      December 19, 2012 at 11:32 am | Reply
    • travis

      WRONG Paul!!! What the second amendment offers is that the people, the citizens have every right to own firearms in protection from there own government, ie Police, military, should the government attempt to take away their freedoms. Use your head! This was written because the colonists had understood that there was a need for leadership in government, however, they were ruled under thumb prior to the freedom fight, and wanted to ensure it never happened again.

      December 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Reply
    • Jack

      Wrong! A militia is not an organized military or law enforcement. A militia would protect against the government military and government law enforcement.

      April 15, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Reply
    • dale

      you are correct – do not listen to all the detractors
      If was a self protect society in 1776 – no police etc. etc.

      May 26, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  4. daniel

    guns belong to the army not civilian the end off story what a stupid second amendment

    December 19, 2012 at 6:50 am | Reply
    • Steve Life

      What a stupid First Admendment

      December 19, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
    • Fnordz

      Guns belong to whomever owns them, genius.

      December 19, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
    • johnh

      Read the 2nd Amendment. It clearly states that Congress shall not pass any laws which impinge upon the rights of the 2nd Amendment!
      (No doubt all those eager for gun control have not read this, or do not care that govt gun control BREACHES the 2nd Amendment!)

      January 9, 2013 at 10:25 am | Reply
  5. Burkut

    The 2nd amendment is the right to own guns to protect yourself and your family. The criminals can get guns in every country legally or not legally. When a man or a woman can protect his/her family that's good. If one man or woman in Newtown school had a gun, he/she could just shoot the murderer.

    December 19, 2012 at 8:08 am | Reply
    • Sylar75

      So your solution to gun violence killing children is to put loaded fire arms in the classrooms with children? I'm gonna start bringing beer to AA meetings to see if that logic works there too.

      December 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
      • Kev

        Even the threat of a possible gun on campus moves it out of the soft target zone for 90 percent of these crazies. Giving up a right is not something to take lightly as it has been already paid for in blood. Staying free takes great sacrifice, or at least that has been the case for 10,000 years; or are you saying humanity has magically been enlightened? I do agree that there could be more done with trying to prevent the mentally ill from access.

        December 20, 2012 at 12:05 am |
      • Jeff

        Considering the reaction of many is to put armed officers in the schools, I really fail to see a difference...

        December 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  6. Dave

    I wish people would understand the REASON for the second amendment. Why was it second only to free speech? People need to educate themselves!!! Wake up!!!

    December 19, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
  7. mike

    Police cannot be everywhere. We have one policeman for every 750 citizens in the United States, or one policeman for every 8 square miles, approximately. Given that fewer than half of those policemen are patrol officers, who actually have the chance to be in the right place, at the right time, the odds of a policeman actually stopping a crime in progress are fairly slim. If I have a gun, however, I can protect myself. I can't protect everyone, and I'm certainly not seeking to be some gun-weilding vigilante... but I can ensure that I, personally, am protected.

    We have a huge problem with personal responsibility in this country. Whenever something goes wrong, it's always someone else's fault. Whenever something needs to be done, it's always someone else's job. But I will not sit by and allow people to take away my right to protect myself... my right to take personal responsibility for my own safety, especially not while the majority of the nation is still saying, "I don't need to protect myself, that's what the job of the police."

    December 19, 2012 at 11:25 am | Reply
  8. tomnikoly

    I can almost smell the 28th Amendment.

    December 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      Yep, because when you require 2/3 of each chamber of Congress to even propose it to the states, then 3/4 of the states to ratify an Amendment, it is very likely to pass. Not.

      Even just assuming the vote got to the states, 30 states went Republican. Using that as a bellwether, and assuming the votes went about the same, the answer is no off the bat, not even taking into account the undoubted many states that went Democrat that would also vote no. My guess would be after a final vote, CA, IL and NY ratify, along with a handful of states on both coasts.

      My second guess is at the serious notion of ANY of the bill of rights amendments being removed, a lot of state's (at this point) silly talk of secession gets serious.

      December 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  9. Aaron

    Many get hung up on the "militia" portion of the Amendment. The BIG part to me is that it further says, "...to the security of a free state..." The founder CERTAINLY believed in the violent overthrow of a tyrannical government in favor of a free state...thus the American Revolution. Fast forward to say 2086...what happens if our "free state" is no longer free due to laws enacted which create tyranny? I believe this was as much the intent of the founders as was the ability of the US to defend itself from outside forces.

    December 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  10. Sylar75

    I love how everyone is up in arms over the so called "threat" of taking all our guns but not one of you said anything when the 4th amendment was butt r@ped by the Patiot Act. Why? Because it sounded cooler? I hate hypocrites. Just like the uber religious, picking and choosing what parts to use for your advantage. BTW I'm all for people being able to "legally" purchase fire arms but we need to keep them out of the reach of crazy people. The laws don't do enough now plain and simple.

    December 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      Many of us were, and still are, outraged. We also see why it is important to be loud and vocal, as all it takes is clever marketing and a catchy name to sell pretty much anything to the public.

      December 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Reply
    • dustin weida

      Also I am sick of these Hitler myths...Hitler did not ban guns! If he had then every single german would not have been allowed to get guns...and the hitler youth and other "chosen" germans most certianly had the right to guns...thats sorta how hitler got power to overthrow democracy and create a dictatorship because he had a cult of personality who was ready with their guns to do his bidding. The Jews lost ALL of their rights under Hitler. Lets also take into account the fact that Hitler killed OVER 6 million Russian soldiers...these were men who were trained and had tanks and missles...if you honestly think that jews with a few pistols and rifles could have done better then the reds then I have a magical monkey butt made of lapis lazuli to sell you!

      January 18, 2013 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  11. Sylar75

    and I'll go ahead and tackle the "criminals don't obey laws" BS too. Then why aren't more of them using grenade launchers? Much more effective. Oh because you can't get them because they are illegal. No amount of laws will stop every shooting, but if it stops just a few it was worth it. Just ask the parents of those 20 kids. On the flipside if we just removed all the laws in the country, no one would be a criminal. I world without crime would be great right!

    December 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  12. Dave

    Gun sales are exploding because of the idiots like Piers Morgan.

    December 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  13. Dave

    Watch what I am saying, there WILL be 1 million more guns on the streets because of the flaming idiots screaming for gun control. I went to 6 different gun stores yesterday, ALL had sold out of ALL their AR / AK style guns and most were limiting ammo sales. Thank you for being stupid.

    December 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  14. gone with the wind

    the heck with the bunch of you..........this counrty is going to hell in a handbasket...........one side is bunch of zealots the other side just plain dumb............am leaving..............hello New Zealand.

    December 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  15. teresahippler

    The bible says that the woman was given 2 wings of the Great Eagle in revelation 12 in the end times what are the 2 wings, they are the first and second amendent they make the eagle fly. Why because it says the beast will make war with the saints and overcome them do you not know that there are 4 very rare passover blood moons in 2014 and 2015 the 4 very rare passover blood moons were there in 1967 when the Jews fought for Jerusalem and the 4 very rare passover blood moons were there 1948 when Isreal became a nation. And the 4 very rare passover blood moons were there in 1492 the Spanish Inquisition and Christopher Columbus. Jesus said that the Sign of the son of man whould appear also at that time matthew 24 verse 30 the 4 very rare passover blood moons in 2014 and 2015 fall in the Galactic Alignment of 2012 to 2016. notice usa in the word Jerusalem

    December 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Reply
    • Anna

      Teresa, PLEASE do not use the Bible to further your own right wing agenda. That is being a false prophet.

      January 11, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  16. teresahippler

    The second amendment is to protect us from our own Goverment if need be call me a false prophet if u want at least my name doesn't mean Satan Lightning from the Heights , we see on tv pictures of Jews being hauled off to Gas chambers Just 60 years ago by the hero Hitler. and the woman was given two wing of the Great Eagle in revelation 12 is a protection for the saints it not hard to see. OOOH that will never happen in the United States don't be so foolish My neighbor lost his mother and father by the hero Hitler and it was in the town paper a few years ago when he gave his testimony

    January 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Reply
    • dustin weida

      Why are you calling Hitler a hero?...you are sick!

      January 18, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  17. Jesse Howard

    SO JEFFREY TOOBIN...WAS WRONG....OBAMA DID TALK VIGOROUSLY ABOUT GUN REFORM AND CHANGE IN HIS NEXT TERM.

    January 17, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  18. dustin weida

    If the 2A was to protect us from our own government then please explain why AII SII of USC gives the president command over the militias of the several states? One does not need permission from the government to fight against it if it becomes tyrannical, that makes no sense. Our founding fathers came up with what is know as Democracy as a bulwark against Tyranny not the 2A. During their (founders) time states would often come under attack from outlaws and native tribes and since the army and navy could not protect every square inch of the country it was needed to allow people in the states to quickly defend against such attacks if they happend. If you are really going to argue that the 2A was to protect us from our own government then it stands to reason that we the people must have tanks, jets and nukes aswell...and if you really want to live in that type of country then by all means move to Somalia.

    The type of people who think that at any moment the big bad gov. is gona rush in and throw you into a death camp so you need to arm yourself to the teeth is the very reason normal people demand gun control in the first place...try not acting like paranoid freaks and maybe people will not want to take your guns, you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy you numb nuts!

    January 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • EK

      um, the United States is a republic, not a democracy.

      Man, you must not have read any history at all if you think that the founders of this country intended the Second Amendment to allow for protection from Indians and outlaws. Have you ever heard of the Revolutionary War?

      January 25, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Reply
      • JC

        Actually yes, it had that intention. It's not hard to find information on it.

        At the time when it was ratified in 1791, the Second Amendment was intended to have at least two security purposes other than a well-regulated militia: (1) a practical purpose, to protect people from thieves, bandits, Native Americans, and slave uprisings (the Jeffersonian position); and (2) a political purpose, to remind the rest of the world that the United States is well-armed (Hamilton and Madison's position in Federalist Paper #46). Cottrol and Diamond (1991) have recently suggested the idea that it was "White Man's Law", intended to prevent slave insurrections.

        March 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  19. bigpoppa206

    There is NO reason to have assault rifles. Handguns are one thing. having more firepower than the police or the military is asking for trouble.

    February 1, 2013 at 2:13 am | Reply
  20. Jon

    Why is everyone talking about the instrument ( guns ) and not the cause. Why does the news media not take on the violent video games, TV and Movies that effect the minds of our kids. That is the real cause of all the killings. The Democrats ( socialist Communist Liberal ) Party leave them alone because they give the most to keep the slave party in power.
    1. Anyone who kills someone regardless of the tool, should get the death penalty. 2. Miranda rights should be taught in school from 3rd grade through high school so the police wont have read them. 3. We need to get rid of the liberal judges and life needs to be respected again. If our society does not hold life sacred why do we expect these killers to be any different. The President and VP say they were so upset about the school murders but both fully endorse 1000s of partial birth murders that doctors perform. We call it abortion or the right of the women to MURDER innocent life but these are fully developed baby's. The pain and the suffering they experience is far greater than those unfortunate school children.

    February 1, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  21. Skip

    “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."

    Interpreted into modern language means:

    Because it is necessary to establish organized and well trained government military units, necessarily maintained within our borders for the protection of this nation, the PEOPLE'S RIGHT to keep and possess equivalent firearms as a necessary countermeasure to these standing military groups, shall NOT be hindered or restricted in any manner.

    February 26, 2013 at 1:19 am | Reply
    • teresahippler

      i agree it says to KEEP and BEAR arms the word KEEP is for the people not the Goverment the Goverment knows it can Keep theirs the word KEEP is for the people, You know we the people

      February 27, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  22. John V.

    A well regulated Militia(Fighting Force of The People), being necessary to the security of a free state, THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE(not the military) to KEEP (at home) and BEAR(on their person) arms SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED!!!...

    Its really simple, We have the Right and it CAN'T BE TAKEN!!!
    If you think the possiblity for crooked people gaining control and trying to subjugate its people can't happen because the police and military are there for you then you are sadly mistaken...and if they do(not saying they will but IF) WOULDN'T YOU WANT A MEANS OF PROTECTION??? OR DO YOU WANT TO RELY ON THE GOVERNMENT WHO NOW DUE TO THE NDAA HAS THE "RIGHT" TO BLACK BAG YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND DETAIN YOU INDEFINANTLY OR EXECUTE YOU WITHOUT DUE PROCESS JUST BECAUSE SOME SUIT SAYS YOU'RE A THREAT???

    HOW DO THEY GET PEOPLE TO GIVE UP THERE RIGHTS? BY CONVINCING THEM THEY DON'T HAVE THEM
    NEVER GIVE UP ANY OF YOUR RIGHTS!!!

    "THOSE WHO SACRAFICE LIBERTY FOR SAFTEY DESERVE NIETHER" Ben Franklin

    March 20, 2013 at 3:12 am | Reply
  23. John V.

    ONCE THE SECOND AMENDMENT IS GONE WE HAVE NO WAY TO ENSURE THE REST WILL STAY!!!! THAT IS THE AMERICAN PEOPLES INSURANCE POLICY FOR THEIR RIGHTS!!!

    March 20, 2013 at 3:16 am | Reply
  24. John Smith

    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 Second Amendment puts “regulated Militia” and “necessary to the security of a free state” as the prerequisites for “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”.

    Of course, there are NO “regulated Militia” and they are NOT “necessary to the security of a free state” in today’s society.

    The prerequisites are not there and outdated, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” can now be infringed upon.

    April 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Reply
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