The National Rifle Association has promoted a false version of American gun culture; among other things is the legendary association with the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms with the Minutemen of the American Revolution. Carl T. Bogus finds a darker history in Madison’s Militia. James Madison, the future president, authored the Second Amendment to placate Southern slaveholders such as Patrick “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” Henry, who threatened to prevent the Constitution’s ratification without additional assurances that the slave states could be maintained. The primary purpose of the Amendment’s “well regulated militia” was to put down slave uprisings.
Bogus, law professor emeritus at Roger Williams University School, makes his case by examining the minutes from ratification conventions and placing events in context. Madison and members of Congress who voted for the Second Amendment believed that the militias would be useless in defending the U.S. from attack. They saw how poorly those militias performed during the American Revolution. The exact wording bears scrutiny: “A well regulated militia being the best security of a free state …” implies that the militia, raised from white male gun owners in each state, was not intended for national defense but internal security against insurrections. In the South, that meant revolts by the enslaved.