The Declaration of Independence goes to great lengths to explain the grievances of the colonists. Frequently there are mentions of injustice caused by members of the British Army. When we get to the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, given the context of the Declaration, and the past history leading up to the Revolution, it appears fairly obvious and straight forward:
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 Framers are acknowledging the necessity for a Militia to secure the freedoms they had so recently fought for and won. But, given the numerous warnings they left us about too much government and the history leading up to the victory, the second, and most important clause of that statement is another check and balance on government power, and a right reserved to the general populace as an inhibitor to the new Federal Government from replicating the recently thrown off yoke of the British Monarchy.
That was the whole reason for the Bill of Rights in the first place: to ensure the rights of the citizens. Each and every one of the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights is geared toward protecting the freedoms of individual citizens from the voracious appetite of a central government. Given the context of history, other documents penned by the same author(s) and the surrounding context of the Bill of Rights, there is no doubt in my mind the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms to the American public.
It is almost as if it’s a prerequisite to the latter clause – Because you need to have a strong military to protect the freedoms of the country as a whole, you also have to allow the citizens to protect themselves against that military if the need arises. The Bill of Rights in it’s entirety is centered around protecting the rights of individuals.
Also, as far as I know, in every instance of use of the word “people” in the Constitution, it means the citizens, the general public: the Preamble, Article I – “the people of the several states”, I Amendment – the right of the people peaceably to assemble, IV Amendment – “the right of the people to be secure”, IX – “others retained by the people”, X – “or to the people”.
In all of these instances it would be ludicrous to argue that “the people” means anything other than what it says: the people of the United States. The average citizens. The use of “the people” in the 2nd Amendment means the same.
Should it be rewritten? I don’ t think so. However, if it were ever necessary to do so, I would drop the initial, qualifying clause entirely and write it as: The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Period.