Dru Stevenson


Many scholars and courts have written about the historical background of the Second Amendment, either to emphasize its connection to state level citizen militias or to argue that the Amendment protects an individual right to own and carry guns for self-defense. While many authors have mentioned the original congressional debates about the Second Amendment, the literature is missing a thorough, point-by-point analysis of those debates, situating each statement in Congress within the context of the speaker’s background and political stances on issues overlapping with the right to keep and bear arms. This Article attempts to fill this gap by providing a methodical discussion of each comment or argument made in Congress when the Second Amendment was under consideration. This discussion addresses how each of the congressmen’s comments connect to public statements made by the same members of Congress in the months that followed on related topics: taxation and public debt related to militias, the supply of available firearms and their legal status as private or public property, the institution of slavery, westward expansion, and especially the complications for each of these issues posed by the Quakers, who became the center of attention during the debates about the Second Amendment. These original congressional debates have taken on more importance following the Supreme Court’s recent holding that courts should decide Second Amendment challenges based on historical evidence from the years immediately preceding and following ratification. While this Article does not take a position on current litigation over modern firearm regulations, the discussion here can offer courts and commentators new insights into the original public meaning of the Second Amendment.

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