History of the Bill of Rights and Second Amendment

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While I enjoyed Warren IIIi’s “Flathead Outdoors” and the sentiment expressed about our nation’s independence and birthday celebrated on July 4, his praise of Thomas Jefferson is misplaced.

Warren wrote, “We should be thankful for Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of our constitution who gave us a constitutional right to bear arms.”

Warren is confusing our Declaration of Independence with the Constitution of United States of America. Thomas Jefferson was the primary author, together with minor input from John Adams and Ben Franklin, for our cherished Declaration of Independence written during the summer of 1776.

Thomas Jefferson was serving as the Ambassador to France when our Constitution was written in 1787; John Adams was the Ambassador to England. While there is no one author of the Constitution, James Madison is rightly considered the primary force or note taker of the Constitution. He wrote the document that formed as a model for the Constitution. George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention.

The original Constitution did not contain the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment was part of the “Bill of Rights” added in order to receive support for the eventual ratification.

This Bill of Rights comprise the first 10 amendments to our Constitution and were added after the bitter 1787-1788 debate over the subsequent ratification process. There were originally 12 such amendments and were written to augment specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights as well as placing limitations on the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, as well as explicit declarations that powers not granted to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the state and people of the U.S.

These concepts were “borrowed” from Virginia’s Declaration of rights, the English Bill of Rights as well as the Magna Carta which was written in 1215.

The 12 amendments were largely the efforts of Representative James Madison, a fellow Virginian who was a neighbor of Thomas Jefferson, who kept his friend in the loop via letters.

James Madison recognized the deficiencies of the constitution and crafted corrective proposals. Congress approved 12 articles of amendment on Sept. 25, 1789, and submitted such to the 13 states for ratification. Ten of these amendments were incorporated as the Bill of Rights.

Warren and others might be enlightened to know the Bill of Rights were not applicable to the states originally. The Second Amendment and the other nine amendments were only applied to the federal government following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.

This granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States — including former slaves. Its guarantee that all citizens have “equal protection of the laws” allowed for the Bill of Rights being applied to both the federal and state governments.

This was done in a lengthy process known as “Incorporation.” It has only been since the beginning of the 20th century that both the state and federal government made the Bill of Rights applicable to both.

The defining U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), in a 5-4 decision, was the first time that the Second Amendment was applied to individuals. The right is not unlimited, as explained in the decision.

The Second Amendment’s history and applicability is deserving of its own in-depth article as it seems to be the primary one that Montanans such as Warren seem to be interested. Suffice to say, its history is interesting, informative and controversial.

— Tom Muri lives in Whitefish

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