[Updated February 20 & 26, 2010]
To the historians, the extensive ratification era arguments about militia powers and the need to amend them are viewed as proof that the Second Amendment resulted from those very arguments because the term "militia" appears in it. The following statement from the historians' brief indicates this general view:
"The Second Amendment came out of a debate about the purpose and control of militias." [p.23]
The above statement is false, as demonstrated in the following analysis, because the Second Amendment actually came out of the ratification era demands for a federal bill of rights consisting of existing state bill of rights protections. The following series of statements from the historians contain embedded quotes of two major Founders, George Mason and Patrick Henry, spoken in the 1788 Virginia Ratifying Convention. The historians thoroughly conflate Antifederalist desire for a militia powers amendment with the separate and distinct desire for Second Amendment related bill of rights protection in their use of these Founders' quotes.
""Mason warned of central governments’ penchant for disarming the people:
"An instance within the memory of some of this house will show us how our militia may be destroyed. Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British government was advised by an artful man [Sir George Keith], who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia."The solution Mason saw was that “divine Providence has given every individual – the means of self-defense” by joining a militia to combat a standing army. Id. 380–81. Patrick Henry argued that “You have a bill of rights [in Virginia] to defend you against the state government, which is bereaved of all power, and yet you have none against Congress, though in full and exclusive possession of all power!” Id. 146. He sought to replicate at the federal level the state constitutional provisions allowing the people to protect themselves against government. The right of revolution was still foremost in his mind." [pp.25-26]
[The Id. 146 reference above from the brief is in error. It should read 446. DY]
The historical problem in the above amalgam of quotes is conflation of Mason militia powers debate quotes that are not directly Second Amendment related to a Henry bill of rights quote from two days later during bill of rights debate that is directly related to the Second Amendment. Mason's quotes are from June 14 debate on the Article 1, Section 8 militia powers. Mason stated the solution for his concerns by specifying the amendment he wanted. The "solution" that the historians read into Mason's second remark is diversionary and misleading, thus, it is discussed in a later post. Found within the same paragraph along with Mason's first quote is the solution to the problem he is describing, which the historians completely ignore:
"I wish that, in case the general government should neglect to arm and discipline the militia, there should be an express declaration that the state governments might arm and discipline them. With this single exception, I would agree to this part, as I am conscious the government ought to have the power." [The Origin of the Second Amendment, p.402]
Mason, chairman of the Antifederalist amendments committee, was the author of the Virginia Ratifying Convention's proposed Bill of Rights as well as a list of 20 "other" non-bill of rights amendment proposals. [OSA, pp.457-462] Compare Mason's stated amendment solution above to Virginia's proposed "other" amendment #11, which is also ignored by the historians:
"11th. That each state respectively shall have the power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining its own militia, whensoever Congress shall omit or neglect ro provide for the same." [OSA, p.460]
This is the proposed amendment that directly results from the militia powers debate Mason's quote is extracted from. His stated amendment solution in the same paragraph as his quote is presented in virtually the same words as proposed amendment #11, which he wrote. Also, Mason clearly indicated this was the only amendment Antifederalists sought regarding the Article 1, Section 8 militia powers. Thus, the Second Amendment was not the solution Mason was seeking, nor could it possibly have been the result of that or any other day's militia powers arguments from the Virginia Ratifying Convention. The historians view that the Second Amendment "came out of a debate about the purpose and control of militias" is false because the period sources they ignore conclusively prove that the Second Amendment was not the solution sought by Mason, and that the actual solution, proposed amendment #11, was the only one sought by the Virginia Antifederalists relating to the Constitution's militia powers. The period evidence conclusively indicates that the Mason quote provided by the historians is not directly related to the Second Amendment.
Patrick Henry's quote from two days later, on the other hand, is directly related to the future Second Amendment. It not only directly dealt with the bill of rights issue, but Second Amendment predecessor language from the state bill of rights was also specifically introduced in the Virginia Convention in relation to it. Shortly before making the statement quoted by the historians, Henry initiated discussion about the need for a federal bill of rights on June 16 by having the 8th through 13th articles of Virginia's declaration of rights read. [OSA, p.434] These particular protections against state violation of the people's rights were later incorporated as the first eight amendments of the U.S. Bill of Rights (excepting the 3rd). [OSA, pp.743-746] This is the 13th article from Virginia's 1776 bill of rights:
"13. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty: and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power." [OSA, p.434]
Virginia' 1776 provision is the original state bill of rights progenitor of the Second Amendment's first clause. It was adopted verbatim, with added bill of rights protection from other states, by the 1788 Virginia Ratifying Convention as part of its proposed bill of rights. Here is Virginia's proposed Bill of Rights Article 17:
"17th. That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power." [OSA, p.459]
This 1788 Virginia proposal is the original two-clause ratification era progenitor of the Second Amendment. James Madison not only voted for the above Virginia Ratifying Convention proposal, he promised to actually support the Second Amendment related parts of it along with all of the other individual rights protections in the proposed bill of rights from Virginia, and he directly relied upon it in drawing up his version of what became the Second Amendment. Madison's 1789 version of the above as presented to Congress stated:
"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". [OSA, pp.654-655]
For comparison, this is the Second Amendment as passed by Congress and ratified by the states:
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bar arms shall not be infringed." [OSA, p.744]
To the historians, the Second Amendment was all about the militia, not about individual rights to possess arms, and it resulted from ratification era militia powers arguments. Period sources prove their use of militia powers arguments as relating to the Second Amendment are erroneous because they conflate largely unrelated arguments as well as an entirely unrelated amendment with the Second Amendment. That the Second Amendment is a bill of rights provision taken directly from state bills of rights provisions is what the period sources clearly show. These facts cannot be determined from the confusing information presented by the historians in their brief. They can only be determined by examining essential information the historians have ignored, such as Mason's militia powers amendment solution to the problem he was describing, and the resulting militia powers amendment he produced to solve that problem.
The historians constantly pursue a militia powers nexus throughout their brief while always downplaying the much more relevant bill of rights related history of the Second Amendment. Their attempted link of the two different subjects in the above amalgam of Mason and Henry quotes results in error due to conflation of unrelated militia powers and bill of rights arguments and solutions.
Because of such errors, the professional historians' amicus brief supporting Chicago's gun control laws in the McDonald case cannot be relied upon for factual information about the Second Amendment's history or intent.