The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
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.
There was a time, when I accepted the interpretation of the Constitution that the 2nd Amendment applied to the regulation of the militia and that the permissibility of individuals owning firearms was not an absolute guarantee. However, upon reading the original language, which the author of the Bill of Rights, James Madison proposed, it is clear that his intention was the individual right to keep and bear arms was not to be infringed. In his original wording, the first independent clause states “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed;” it ends with a semi-colon, which according to common English grammar usage is, “to connect two independent clauses, Independent clauses are series of words that could stand alone as complete sentences.” It should be noted that in the Second Amendment, rather than using semi-colons the Congress choose to rewrite and shorten Madison’s original wording and to use commas.
The second independent clause states that a “well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country.” This clause adds clarity that to be effective the militia must be not only regulated but also well armed, as it was a check on government at all levels.
The third clause, I believe, is the most important, and the one excluded entirely from the amendment sent to the States by Congress, states “but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person” which if kept would have ended much rancor over the course of our history. This is very much in keeping with Madison’s belief that religion and state should not mix; and that if a person was conscientious objector then the government should not compel him (I would add her except in Mr. Madison’s age women serving in the military and militia or bearing arms would have been an anathama) to violate the tenets of his religion.
So what should one take from Mr. Madison original langugage and has the two centuries since he utter those words changed how we should view the 2nd Amendment.
Rather than debating the pro and cons of the Second Amendment, let us consider for a moment the Bill of Rights in its entirety. What was the purpose of those ten Amendments? There were two; first and foremost it was ensure the rights of the individual were not abrogated by the state; second it was to to ensure that the Federal Government respected the rights and privileges of the individual states.
Madison, while initially oppossed to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights as not being necessary, was moved by the arguments of those oppossed to the Constitution, the anti-Federalists. One of the principal arguments they made against the Constitution was that it lacked a Bill of Rights, which most state constitutions had. A Bill of Rights to protect the individual liberties of citizenry. Madison, ever the astute politican, realized that the sentiments expressed by anti-Federalists were representatives, beliefs which could not and should not be ignored.
When Madison introduced the amendments it was his desire that the Bill of Rights apply to all levels of government. His fear was that in the future, some states would abridge the rights of the individuals because their constituions lacked a Bill of Rights or that they would choose out of political expediency to ignore the constiutional mandates of their respective state constitutions.
The Bill of Rights protects all citizens from the power of the state; what political philosopher Thomas Hobbs referred to as Leviathan. Protects them from the arbitrary and capricious acts to stifle dissent and to enforce order. These were the rights, some which were the ancient rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta, which the founders of the nation believed were essential to an effective and representative state.
For decades politicians that revere the Bill of Rights must be respected have lectured us that the amendments mean what they say except for the 2nd Amendment. George Will, once referred in a dismissive manner, to the 2nd Amendment as that unfortunate amendment. His attitude is representative of the attitude of American elites towards the 2nd Amendment who somehow look at the ownership of firearms as something that only the great unwashed would have an interest in and therefore firearms should be outlawed. Fortunately for the nation and our freedoms, this view has been rejected by the Supreme Court. There have been attempts by academics to prove that 2nd Amendment does not mean what it says, although in one case it was proven his work was falsified.
This attitude towards the 2nd Amendment stands in stark contrast to the general reverence which the other amendments, in particular the 1st Amendment are held. Yet for all the reverence we shower on the other fundamental rights contained in Bill of Rights most Americans do not realize that they are not absolute. For example the right of assembly, at least a string of Supreme Court cases have held that the state may restrict assembly by specifying a time, manner, or place of assembly.
Likewise the Supreme Court has held Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961) that evidence obtained by illegal or warrantless searches may be excluded from use in a criminal trial. Yet the Court has also provided exceptions to the exclusionary rule; most importantly when there is a reasonable belief that evidence related to a criminal activity will disappear if a search is not immediately executed, though the state (in this case law enforcement) have a very high bar in proving the need for the exception.
I mention the exceptions to the absolute nature of Bill of Rights to highlight a tension that exists with our view of the 2nd Amendment. While I have changed my belief on the nature of the 2nd Amendment, from acceptance of the typical liberal academic disdain to acceptance that the founders intended that the populace should be allowed to be armed, if they so choose. As the legal history of the other amendments contained in the Bill of Rights highlight the abridgement of any of those rights are judged by a standard of strict scrutiny but may be abridged so too has the Supreme Court applied strict scrutiny to any law abridging the right of gun ownership.
Whilst the jurisprudence of the 2nd Amendment is relative new the belief by some that it is absolute is just as wrongheaded as the liberal academic view that the 2nd Amendment is the unfortunate amendment. While the state may not be able to outlaw the ownership or possession of guns I suspect that the Supreme Court will allow reasonable restrictions. As a long ago Supreme Court justice said, “our constitution is not a suicide pact.” In order to have proper functioning society there has to be a balance between liberty and order; otherwise you have either repression or anarchy. The tough part is finding that proper balance.
 The Marshall Court, in Barron v. Baltimore (32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 243 (1833)) held that the Bill of Rights did not apply to the states. With the passage of the 14th Amendment after the Civil War the question of whether the Bill of Rights applied to the States it was believed that this question was settled; however to date the Supreme Court has only selectively incorporated the Bill of Rights (e.g. meaning that they apply to the states).
 See District of Columbia v. Heller (554 U.S. 570 (2008)); McDonald v. Chicago (138 S. Ct. 1317 (2009)).
 See Michael A. Bellesiles Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). Bellesiles was a professor of history at Emory University who won the Bancroft Prize in 2001 and who was later fired from his position, the Bancroft Prize rescinded after it was proven he falsified much of the information contained in his work.
 See National Socialists Party v. Skokie, 432 U. S. 43 (1977).