The History of the Right to Bear Arms - An Early Precedent—militias And The Ownership Of Weapons, Early Gun Control Laws, The English Bill Of Rights

philosopher individual tradition citizen

The right to bear arms has long been an American tradition. From the time colonists settled on American soil, Americans have held weapons to protect themselves. Armed citizen-soldiers won America's freedom more than two centuries ago. Partly because of this long-standing tradition, attempts to control a citizen's right to own a gun evoke strong emotions. The modern debate over gun control erupted over a series of high-profile assassinations in the 1960s and gained new urgency after gun-related violence rose in the 1980s and 1990s.

At the heart of the gun control debate is the interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. One side claims that gun ownership is an individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment and that guns are vital for self-protection. The other side claims guns should be banned or restricted because they are used to commit crimes and many innocent lives are lost because of their misuse. Gun control advocates say there is no longer a compelling need for "people to keep and bear arms" as there was when the Constitution was ratified in 1791. They sometimes add the argument that the constitutionally guaranteed right was never meant to apply to individuals anyway.

The right of the individual to keep and bear arms has a long tradition in Western civilization. The Greek philosopher Aristotle thought that bearing arms was necessary for true citizenship and participation in the political system (in Politics). On the other hand, the Greek philosopher Plato believed in a monarchy with few liberties and saw the disarming of the populace as essential to the maintenance of his orderly and autocratic system (in Republic). The Roman politician Cicero supported bearing arms for self-defense of the individual and for public defense against tyranny (in De Officiis). Machiavelli, the Italian political philosopher, advocated an armed populace of citizen soldiers to keep headstrong rulers in line (in Discourse).

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