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 very FIRST clause, A well regulated Militia, tells you most of what you need to know about the Second Amendment, yet most people focus on the very LAST clause, shall not be infringed. By doing this, they fall into the horrid trap of unconditional entitlement, immutable and undeniable “gun rights” and even often go much further adding “God-given.” It’s truly puzzling how we allow the FIRST clause to be glossed over as though it’s not even there and skip right to the end. Read the first two clauses slowly.
As anyone can plainly see, there is nothing whatsoever mentioned about personal protection, defense of the home, defense against criminals, target practice or even hunting. There is no mention of tyranny or a rogue government. Indeed the SECOND clause, being necessary to the security of a free State, adds a further clarification of the FIRST clause—the need to protect the State, not to fight it.
Even so, we can presume a sort of elegant simplicity from the Founders and can learn their exact thinking from reading the Militia Act of 1792 by the 2nd Congress. In it we see they expected able-bodied men to join their respective State Militias and be at the ready and that the President of the United States could at any time required for the defense of the nation or to put down an insurrection, order them into action. They were given details on the type of, quality and quantity of arms they were supposed to possess and these were quaint by today’s standards.
That every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may…