What is the Second Amendment?

Amzad Ali, age 14 and IndyKids Staff

A painting of the Founding Fathers as they prepare to sign the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton (center left) leans in to whisper to Benjamin Franklin (center right). Credit: Public Domain / Original Painting by Howard Chandler Christy


In December of 1791, the Second Amendment was added to the constitution to allow American citizens the right to bear arms. The second amendment 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 only other countries with the rights to bear arms written into their constitutions are Bolivia, Guatemala, and Honduras.

When the second amendment was written, the federal government had no standing military. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Papers wrote that a well-regulated militia was “the most natural defense of a free country.” The founding fathers feared a standing army with full-time soldiers because they worried that the government could turn the army against its own citizens.

Militias were not only for military purposes. They were also used in slave-owning states as a police force. Multiple laws also existed in that era outlawing gun ownership for Native Americans as well as freed and enslaved people.

Today, some argue that the circumstances which created the Second Amendment are no longer relevant. However, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld individual rights under the protection of the Second Amendment.

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in Caetano v. Massachusetts that even though certain weapons were not in existence during the time of the Second Amendment, citizens still had the right to own them. This is the same argument that is used to protect the ownership of firearms that are capable of firing multiple shots in a matter of minutes.


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