Joseph Story on the Second Amendment
In several previous posts I have referred to and quoted the work of Joseph Story, an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1811-1845), a friend of several of the Founding Fathers, and the author of Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), a work that set the benchmark for interpreting the Constitution for the rest of the 19th century. It is often interesting to consult the views of those who lived at or near the time of the Founding of the country to see how they compare with politicians and pundits plying their trade today. Here is Story’s commentary on the Second Amendment:
§ 1889. The next amendment is: “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.”
§ 1890. The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence [sic] of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them. And yet, though this truth would seem so clear, and the importance of a well regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense of its burthens, to be rid of all regulations. How it is practicable to keep the people duly armed without some organization, it is difficult to see. There is certainly no small danger, that indifference may lead to disgust, and disgust to contempt; and thus gradually undermine all the protection intended by this clause of our national bill of rights.
You can find the complete three volume work online here.