In The National Review
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In 1791, the Founding Fathers placed into the U.S. Constitution a set of ten amendments that we refer to collectively as the “Bill of Rights.” Among them was an innocuous measure designed to protect state militias against federal overreach. Until the 1970s, nobody believed that this meant anything important, or that it was relevant to modern American society. But then, inspired by profit and perfidy, the dastardly National Rifle Association recast the provision’s words and, sua sponte, brainwashed the American public into believing that they possessed an individual right to own firearms.
Simply put, the above charge, which is popular in the press and in some quarters of the academy, is not true. In fact, it’s farcical. Certainly, the last few decades have brought with them a sea change in both the jurisprudence and the academic literature that undergird the Second Amendment. And certainly, there has been a move away from the mid-20th-century consensus that the Second Amendment was either meaningless — in 1975, the American Bar Association proclaimed bizarrely that “it is doubtful that the Founding Fathers had any intent in mind with regard to the meaning of this Amendment” — or wholly without teeth as a protector of individual rights. And yet, contrary to popular claims, these transformations did not represent a novel revolution in meaning or interpretation but rather a much-needed restoration of what for most of American history was supremely, even mundanely, obvious: that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” means “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
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