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Atty. Ralph D. Sherman

130 West Main Street • New Britain, Connecticut 06052

tel. (860) 229-0213 • fax (860) 229-0235 • e-mail


Legal Opinion

June 1998

The Second Amendment:  A course for non-lawyers

"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."

Of all the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, none is more frequently discussed and less well understood than the Second Amendment. (I say this partly as a former journalist, and journalism is a profession that has never shied from discussing law or guns despite a fundamental lack of knowledge about either.)

For several months I have been preparing a course on the subject, which I hope to teach at one of the law schools in or near our state. It will come as no surprise to most readers of this column that the Second Amendment is not even mentioned, let alone analyzed, in the typical law-school course on constitutional law. Yet the amendment is obviously misunderstood by many judges and attorneys. So I hope to attack this problem.

But many non-attorneys whom I have met (at legislative hearings, rod & gun clubs, etc.) have asked about a course for laymen. They ask me if the Second Amendment really protects the average gun owner. Doesn't he or she have to join a "militia"? What about the National Guard? Is the right really a right that belongs to individual citizens? What has the U.S. Supreme Court said? Why hasn't it struck down gun bans as unconstitutional? And how can a gun owner explain the Second Amendment to others?

Well, a course for non-attorneys is a possibility. Might be coming to a college near you.

Meanwhile, I'm going to use this space for a few months to answer some of the basic questions that people ask about the Second Amendment. I can't provide the detail that will be available in a course, but if you want the detail (say, to support your argument in a letter to a newspaper), just e-mail me through my web site (

To get started, here is my list of the most fundamental questions about the Second Amendment: 1. What is the meaning of the "militia" clause? 2. Whose right is it? 3. Can the right be limited? 4. What are the limits, if any?

I'll start with the "militia" clause, also known as the justification clause, next month.


Copyright 1998 by Ralph D. Sherman

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