One of the most influential early commentators on the U.S. Constitution was Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. In his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, vol. 3 at pp. 746-747 (1833), he has the following to say about 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 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 ofanding armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facilee 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. [FN1] And yet, thought 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 is it 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. [FN2]

    " 1891. A similar provision in favour of protestants (for to them it is confined) is to be found in the [English] bill of rights ofll of rights of 1688, it being declared, "that the subjects, which are protestants, may have arms for their defence suitable to their condition, and as allowed by law." [FN3] But under various pretences the effect of this provision has been greatly narrowed; and it is at present in England more nominal than real, as a defensive privilege."


  1. 1 Tucker's Black. Comm. App.300; Rawle on Const. ch.10, p.125; 2 Lloyd's Debates, 219,220.

  2. It would be well for Americans to reflect upon the passage in Tacitus, (Hist.IV ch.74): "Nam neque quies sine armis, neque arma sine stipendis, neque stipendia tributis, haberi queunt." Is there any escape from a large standing army, but in a well disciplined militia? There is much wholesome instruction on this subject in 1. Black.Comm. ch.13, p.408 to 417.

  3. 5 Cobbett's Parl. Hist. p.110; 1 Black.Comm. 143, 144.

   And now some commentary from the late 20th Century:

    Story's passage on the Second Amendment supports the proposition that the phrase "well regulated" militia does not mean regulated as not mean regulated as we, citizens living under the omnipresent regulation of the post-New Deal federal government understand "regulation."  Instead, "well regulated" in this context, means "properly functioning" and "uniformly equipped."   Note how Story laments Jacksonian America's growing indifference and hostility to maintaining a well regulated militia -- not on political or philosophical grounds, but rather because Americans were getting lazy!  In fact, I'd say he was prescient, in respect to the last sentence of 1890.  As for 1891, history repeats itself, as we in the US have allowed our RKBA to become undermined under various pretenses, such as "the war on crime," or the specious argument that of all rights of "the people" enumerated in the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment alone applies to states, not individuals.

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