David Whalen

When the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in 1787, its goal was to remedy the defects of the Articles of Confederation. These Articles gave insufficient power to the central government — especially with regard to funding.

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote a series of 85 articles under the name Publius encouraging their fellow-citizens to ratify the new Constitution. They recommended against adding a Bill of Rights on the grounds that the Constitution itself provided sufficient protection. The consensus was that the Constitution be ratified first, then be amended by a Bill of Rights.

There were originally 12 amendments, but these were reduced to 10. Among these was the Second Amendment:

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.

But what does it mean? “The people” are not mentioned in the Constitution except in the Preamble. It seems to mean some division below the States. Militia are mentioned several times, principally in Article 1, Section 8, enumerating the powers of Congress:

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

From the Federal point of view, the purpose of Militias is to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions. Congress is responsible for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militias, but the States appoint the officers and do the actual training. There is a strong argument that the right to bear arms refers to “a well-regulated militia,” not an individual. The Supreme Court has (recently) disagreed: Individuals have rights — but Congress can regulate them.

The intent seems to have been to allow for the formation of semi-formal military groups to protect “the people” from foreign invasion, from India attacks, and from slave rebellions. The weapon of the day was the “Brown Bess” (Land Pattern Musket 1722-1838). The Brown Bess was caliber 0.69 and weighed about 10 pounds. It had an effective range of about 50 yards and a rate of fire of 1-4 rounds per minute. This is a far cry from an AR-15: caliber 0.223, weighing about 7 pounds. The AR-15 has an effective range of about 600 yards and a rate of fire (auto) of about 750 rounds per minute. As has been all too evident over the past few years, this capability allows for massacres.

Are militias still needed? In the past century, the United States has fielded moderately well-trained troops in a hurry by calling up States’ troops. Since the 1903 Dick Act, these have been designated the National Guard. This arrangement was made more specific by the 1916 National Defense Act. State Militias are now the National Guard. Does this mean all other militias are illegal? Not necessarily. There are two forms of Militia, the organized Militia, now the National Guard, and the unorganized Militia, all other males 17-45 (65 if veteran).

So we — or at least all males 17-45 — are in the Militia. What kinds of Arms can we keep/bear? Where do these Arms reside? In Armories or in homes? Can we “bear” nuclear weapons? Tanks? Heavy machine guns? Must these weapons be registered and accounted for?

It seems fairly clear that the Federal Government is responsible for “organizing, arming, and disciplining” the Militia. Shouldn’t that include registering Arms and ensuring those holding them are responsible citizens? The relatively recent argument that gun ownership is an individual right is not universally accepted. The authority of the Federal Government, the states, and localities to “regulate” gun ownership has been affirmed by many courts. Yet this is still argued constantly.

In classical Greece and Republican Rome, one of the marks of citizenship was the ability to show up fully armed in the town square when the alarm was rung. In degraded form, this point-of-view persisted through the Middle Ages. Today, in Switzerland, most of the male population has a government-provided assault rifle in the home. But the Swiss are notoriously law-abiding; Americans are not. In parts of the U.S., at different times, all males were required to have a weapon nearby.

It would be incredibly ridiculous to say the Second Amendment allows for ownership of nuclear weapons. It is only slightly less ridiculous to argue for planes, tanks, and artillery. What about assault rifles? AR-15s are only useful for mass murder or war.

Perhaps we need legislation, or a constitutional amendment, defining the arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment as single-shot long guns, as the amendment originally referred to. Hand guns would require a background investigation equivalent to that for a top secret clearance — and a demonstrated need.

David J. Whalen holds a PhD in public policy. He teaches at Bakersfield College. The opinions expressed are his own.

(6) comments


More on Second Amendment

I was surprised by the number of responses to my article on the Second Amendment—and pleased by the positive nature of most of the responses. Some responses were letters to the Californian, some were internet comments, and some were sent directly to me. I have added a definition and a little history.
One issue some raised was the definition of “Assault Rifle.” The U.S. Army defines assault rifles as "short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges." The M-16 (fully automatic AR-15) Assault Rifle ended up replacing the M-14 Battle Rifle. In a strict definition, a firearm must have at least the following characteristics to be considered an assault rifle:
• It must be capable of selective fire.
• It must have an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle or battle rifle, such as the 7.92×33mm Kurz, the 7.62x39mm and the 5.56x45mm NATO.
• Its ammunition must be supplied from a detachable box magazine.
• It must have an effective range of at least 300 meters (330 yards).

One writer stated that the AR-15 was designed to be a civilian rifle. It was not. The Armalite company, designers of the Armalite Rifle (AR) 15 was a division of Fairchild Aircraft competing for the USAF aircrew survival weapon contract. Not making much money on this enterprise they licensed the design(s) to Colt. The Colt AR-15 won the USAF contract and became the M-16. When a few examples made it to Vietnam, it was hailed for its light weight and was immediately provided to US and South Vietnamese infantry. The heavier, more accurate M-14 Battle Rifle became a sniper’s weapon.
The Brown Bess was the primary weapon on both sides of the Revolutionary War. The second most prevalent weapon was the 1766 Charleville musket for Americans and the 1777 Charleville Musket for French troops. There were a sizable number of Pennsylvania/Kentucky Long Rifles which were used by snipers and skirmishers, and occasionally in stand-up battles.
As far as AR-15 semi-automatic rate of fire goes, part of the USN pistol course (and competition) was rapid fire: five rounds in ten seconds. It took practice to fire that slowly, most of us could get out all five rounds in one second. “Rapid” fire over a minute would result in at least 30 rounds per minute and probably more like 60+. Each 30-round magazine would only last a minute.
Modern Infantry rifles tend to have muzzle velocities of about 3000 feet per second. Revolutionary War muskets had muzzle velocities of about 1000 feet per second. The round energy is equal to bullet mass times velocity-squared. Increased velocity increases deadliness, it also increases accuracy. An S&W .38 Special (1000 fps)round drops about 50 cm (20 inches) at 100 meters/yards, while an M-16 round (3000 fps) only drops about 5 cm (2 inches) at 100 meters/yards.

Louis Gill

REMUDA: Your argument deteriorated into a personal attack and lost all credibility. You chose to attack a man and his character instead defending your difference of opinion. As our President would say "Sad".
You obviously know nothing about Dr. Whalen because he does not resemble your assumptions. If you did know anything about Dr. Whalen you would know that he is a Veteran. He served honorably for two combat tours in Vietnam and he wasn't drafted, he volunteered.
Stick to the issues. You have demonstrated your willingness to share your ignorance by attacking him and you are out of your depth.


When my Dad was a kid he could bring his rifle to school. Yes, to school. They had shooting classes and clubs. They would go hunting after school.

THIS WAS IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. Not some rural city in the middle of the county.

The local Junior College had a shooting range underneath the track until the late 1980's. They taught shooting there too and students could bring their own firearms.

And no one shot up the school.

Now we have done away with all of that. Can't have a firearm within 1000 feet of a K-12 school in this country even.

What is the difference you think? It's not the guns. Blaming guns is just silly. Something causes that person to pick up a weapon and do evil things.

Take away one weapon and they'll replace it with another. A guy in France killed and injured HUNDREDS of people with a truck.


Oh . . . and . . . ask my son at Boeing (both of us on Delta IV & Orbiter) where planes and space vehicles originate . . . and the Rutans . . .and CalTech about the Manhattan Project.


BTW, I take particular and personal umbrage at this outrageous statement by Dr. Whalen, at Bakersfield College: "But the Swiss are notoriously law-abiding; Americans are not." That only suggests that Dr. Whalen does not have a DD214 nor does he know the meaning of 'serving his country' . . . in any capacity!


Seems pretty clear to me, as in reading this, these statements are stand-alone per the existence of the comma. They became amendments as to the rights of individuals, specifically, separately and collectively, as well as to form organizations therefor, needed clarification as to the bearing of arms in any, repeat ANY . . . circumstance or situation: A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, (called for in this section) the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. (as defined in the Declaration of Independence)

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution:

Section 8 - Powers of Congress

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the COMMON DEFENCE of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

The AR before the ArmaLite model number stands for "ArmaLite Rifle". (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ArmaLite_rifle). ArmaLite Rifles are these: AR-5, AR-7, AR-10, AR-15, AR-18, AR-30, AR-30A1, AR-31, AR-50, AR-180 are all single shot, bolt-action, semi-automatic or survival rifles. Only only one is characterized as "assault" which is the AR-18, not at issue here.

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