Something I have been pondering for a while, and decided to do some research on the topic.
I thought that I would share my current understanding:
"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." United States Constitution, Amendment 2.
The wording of the Second Amendment, to my ears, is unusual in its form.
To understand the intent of the Second Amendment, it is profitable to follow its formation from the beginning.
One way to do that is to examine the proposed wording of the Second Amendment from the individual states, before the Second Amendment was adopted.
From Massachusetts Minority, February 6, 1788
"That the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience: or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms". Massachusetts Convention, pp. 86-87(see below: CBR, pg 181)
From New Hampshire, June 21, 1788
Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion. State Ratifications, Record Group 11, General Records of the United States Government, Nation Archives. (see below: CBR, pg 181)
From New York, July 26, 1788
That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, including the body of the People capable of bearing Arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free State. State Ratifications, RG 11, DNA. (see below: CBR, pg 181)
From North Carolina, August 1, 1788
That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free state. State Ratifications, RG 11, DNA. (see below: CBR, pg 182)
Taking into consideration the proposals from the various states, the wording, as first proposed by Madison in the House, on June 8, 1789, was:
"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person." Congressional Register, June 8, 1789, vol. 1, p. 427
This version was also reported contemporaneously by the Daily Advertiser, June 12, 1789, p. 2, col. 1. and by the New York Daily Gazette, June 13, 1789, p. 574, col. 3.(see below: CBR, pg 169)
During subsequent discussions, a motion was made by Burke, in the House, on August 17, 1789. Mr. Burke proposed to add to the above clause, an amendment to the following effect:
"A standing army of regular troops in time of peace, is dangerous to public liberty, and such shall not be raised or kept up in time of peace but from necessity, and for the security of the people, nor then without the consent of two-thirds of the members present of both houses, and in all cases the military shall be subordinate to the civil authority."
Congressional Register, August 17, 1789, vol. 2, p. 222. (see below: CBR, pg 172)
This motion was also recorded contemporaneously in the Daily Advertiser, August 18, 1789, p. 2, col. 4 and the New York Daily Gazette, August 19, 1789, p. 802, col. 3 and the Gazette of the U.S., August 22, 1789, p. 249. col. 3. (Ibid)
The above wording, or very similar, regarding "a standing army...is dangerous to public liberty" came up again during discussion in the Senate on September 4, 1789, again recorded contemporaneously by several sources. Several states incorporated the wording of both clauses in their constitutions.
(CBR: All of the above quotes, as noted by double indentation, are cited in The Complete Bill of Rights, 1997, Congan)
In the times before the establishment of the United States, various governments and kingdoms maintained standing armies. Those armies were to assist in the security of the state, but were also occasionally used to oppress the citizenry of the state. Indeed, this was part of the genesis of the Magna Carta.
Being aware of the foregoing, the founding fathers realized
“that the only security against the tyranny of the government lies in forcible resistance to the execution of the injustice; because the injustice will certainly be executed, unless it be forcibly resisted.”
“Since, then, this forcible resistance to the injustice of the government is the only possible means of preserving liberty, it is indispensable to all legal liberty that this resistance should be legalized.” Lysander Spooner, An Essay on Trial by Jury, Juries Judges of the Justice of Laws, Chapter 1, Section 2, ¶ 19-20. (circa 1848)
This right of resistance had to be recognized
“by the constitution of the United States, as a strictly legal and constitutional right, enforced by the provision that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This constitutional security for “the right to keep and bear arms,” implies the right to use them – as much as a constitutional security for the right to buy and keep food would have implied the right to eat it. The constitution, therefore, takes it for granted that the people will judge of the conduct of the government, and that, as they have the right, they will also have the sense, to use arms, whenever the necessity of the case justifies it.” Ibid.
“Many of these bills of rights also assert the natural right of all men to protect their property – that is, to protect it against the government. It would be unnecessary and silly indeed to assert, in a constitution of government, the natural right of individuals to protect their property against thieves and robbers.” Ibid.
The foregoing notion was entered into the written record during the discussion of drafts and proposals on August 17, 1789, by Mr. Gerry, whose speech is quoted here in relevant part:
"What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty." Mr. Gerry goes on to state: "Whenever government mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins. This was actually done by Great Britain at the commencement of the late revolution. They used every means in their power to prevent the establishment of an effective militia to the eastward." Congressional Register, August 17, 1789, vol. 2, pp. 219-23. (see above: CBR, pg 186)
It was well understood that the common people, who were well armed, would be a deterrent against an oppressive government. In the terms of the day, the common people, well armed, were referred to as the 'militia'.
The militia was not the army, nor the National Guard, nor the police, nor any other branch or division of government.
Further, “well regulated” was a common phrase, meaning, in this context, ‘in good order’ or ‘properly disciplined’ and ‘well trained’. Random House College Dictionary (1990), Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1989, The Federalist Papers, No. 29, respectively. Additionally, usage in context of contemporaneous writings carry the notion of ‘well trained’. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, December 13, 1777.
Considering the context of the militia clause, i.e. that ‘well regulated’ refers to a group of well armed common people for the purposes of resisting the grievous oppression of government, it doesn’t make much sense to have that same group of people be under the burden of numerous laws, rules and regulations from that oppressive government.
In the case that armed resistance was required against an oppressive government, the milita must be well armed, disciplined enough to respond to the call to arms, and trained enough to mount an effective resistance.
Let us set these thoughts aside briefly, to examine the actions of more modern governments:
In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, a total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated.
China established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million political dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to 1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
Cambodia established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, one million educated' people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century: 56 million. Now you understand why, in the words of Justice Joseph Story (appointed to the Supreme Court by James Madison), "The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them."
The above quote, as noted by double indentation, is from: The Patriot Post, Gun Control History
These are sobering thoughts.
So, with the above notes as background, let's amplify the wording of the Second Amendment drastically, and taking great liberties, include the foregoing thoughts embodied in that cryptic text:
Since governments always tend to grow in size and power, and since grievous oppression can only happen when the people are effectively disarmed, it is clear that "a well regulated” (trained) “militia," consisting of the common people who are well armed, while "being necessary to" maintain "the security of" freedom from government oppression in "a free state," it must follow that "the right of" the free "people to keep and bear arms" to resist government oppression, "shall not be infringed."