The Federalist Papers (or simply the Federalist) are a collection of essays written in 1787-88 in support of the ratification of the Constitution. There were 85 of them, most written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, and a handful by John Jay. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay are, of course, three of our revered Founding Fathers, that prestigious, inestimable assemblage of demigods whom many appeal to when deciphering what the Constitution really says. The Supreme Court has modeled this tendency itself through the years by having cited the Federalist hundreds of times for the underpinning of its decisions.
As a disclaimer, I am not a Constitutional scholar by any stretch of the imagination. I reference the venerable opinions of this extraordinary commentary on the Constitution at the present time to see if they can enlighten us about the Second Amendment and the controversial issue of gun control which has taken on a renewed urgency in the wake of Newtown and the other heinous cases of mass murder perpetuated by the use of assault and semi-automatic weapons.
Alexander Hamilton discusses the topic of the Second Amendment in Federalist Paper #29, "Concerning the Militia". A careful reading of it may help give some insight into the original intent of the amendment itself. Does the Second Amendment tilt toward regulation or away from it?
Here is the text of the Second Amendment that has been parsed innumerable times by proponents on either side of the issue: "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."
Here is how Hamilton begins his discussion of the necessity of a militia in the several states: "The power of regulating the militia, and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion are natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defence, and of watching over the internal peace of the Confederacy."
Hamilton proceeds to discuss the people's right to bear arms in the context of the role of the militia ( read National Guard today) in repelling invasion or insurrection. In 1791 when the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, "a well regulated militia" is given as the reason for "the right of the people to keep and bear arms".
This right is inviolable and sacrosanct. And no advocate of gun regulation should think otherwise. But there should be no argument about the power of the government to regulate that right in the interests of the common good. The regulation should be sensible and reasonable. No one should dispute that semi-automatic guns should be kept out of the hands of the mentally unbalanced. Background checks seem a sensible step in preventing this. Or limiting the rounds of ammunition. Or a national gun registry. Gun owners and advocates of gun sanity must find a common ground. There's no way we can recall the Founding Fathers from the afterlife.. But we can listen to what they left behind---in their written words.
Instead of endless contentiousness, reading and reflecting on Federalist Paper #29 may be more constructive. If we did , we might see that gun ownership is not an absolute right, but subject to government regulation in order, as the Preamble states, to insure domestic tranquillity and to promote the general welfare.