Is a Concealed Carry Law Necessary?

In 2004, the State of Ohio became the thirty-seventh state to pass some form of concealed carry legislation, under which persons may carry concealed firearms.  Shortly after, William Michael, an attorney from Columbus published an article in the Akron Law Review.  His thesis is simple.  While some gun rights advocates endorse concealed carry legislation, this demonstrates how far we have come from the original intent of the Second Amendment.   “Given the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, such legislation appears unnecessary since individuals have a constitutional right to carry firearms.”

Mr. Michael lays out a simple and logical argument in three steps.  After reciting a litany of positions contrary to the idea that every American has the right to own a firearm, the Columbus lawyer begins his own argument by examining the actual text of the Second Amendment.

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.

The text itself suggests two fundamental questions.  (1) What is the right protected?  (2) Whose right is it?  Regarding the first question, a plain reading of the text indicates that right being protected is the “right to keep and bear Arms.”  Regarding the second question, the text indicates that it is specifically “the right of the people.”

As simple as it sounds, this is a critical starting place because it is not uncommon for legal scholars to claim that the right protected under the Second Amendment is a collective right that only belongs to “the Militia,” which moreover is given existence only after being organized by the State.  Thus, “who” is protected under the Second Amendment is only organized Militia, and in some authors’ legal analysis only those Militia that are organized by the State.

Michael offers several arguments in addition to the straightforward language of the Amendment itself.  First, the meaning of “the people” as individuals has never been questioned in the FIrst, Fourth, Ninth, or Tenth Amendments, so there is no reason to question it in the Second.  Thus, even though scholars and courts have argued that the Second Amendment protects only the rights of States or collective rights of certain groups, “collective rights are antithetical to the familiar notion of individual rights in the United States.  They very inclusion of the right to keep and bear arms in the Bill of Rights indicates that the framers of the Constitution considered it an individual right.”  The Bill of Rights is a clear listing of individual rights, and since the Second Amendment is included in this document, the phrase “the people” should be interpreted in a manner consistent with the rest of the document.  That is to say, if the understanding of “the people” in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments is individual Americans, then so too should the phrase be interpreted in the Second Amendment.

Of course, some will still adamantly argue that the inclusion of the clause “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” is enough to mitigate the definition of “the people.”  Yet the whole tenor of the Bill of Rights, as well as similar grammatical structures found throughout the Constitution, dictates that we understand this clause not as a modifier to “the people” but rather to be an indication of why individuals have the right to keep and bear arms.

There are also contrary opinion of how to understand the phrase “a well regulated Militia.”  Jack Rakove (cited by Michael) asserts that “any reader of Article I, Section 8 [which empowers Congress to call forth the Militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions] would find it hard to deny that the text there considers the militia not as an unorganized mass of the citizenry but as an institution subject to close legislative regulation” (emphasis added).  However, Michael levels two criticisms against this.  First, the clause suggests that the militia exists before being called to defend the country, and therefore individuals do not become a militia only when employed and organized by the country.  Second, Article I, Section 8 also gives Congress the power to “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia,” which indicates further that the Militia exists before organization, otherwise the power to organize and discipline it would be superfluous.  Finally, because the Tenth Amendment already delegates the power to maintain state militias (because is is expressly not delegated to the federal government), a reading of the Second Amendment as one that gives States the power to organize militias would be redundant and unnecessary.  Clearly something else must be going on the Second Amendment, which is precisely the individual right to keep and bear arms.

The second step in Michael’s argument is to examine the intent of the Framers of the Constitution.  Madison’s original version, which he proposed to be put in Article I, Section 9, read: “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.”  The revision cycle that the Article went through demonstrates that the intent, which in its original wording clearly spells out an individual right, does not change with the reordering of the clauses.  The very fact that Madison wanted to place this in Section 9 is even more evidence, for this is one of the few places in the original Constitution that protects individual rights.  Further, the Senate rejected a proposal to add the phrase “for common defense” after “to keep and bear arms,” which demonstrates that the Senate did not want to narrow an individual’s right to keep and bear arms to only those situations that provide for the “common defense.”

The context in which the Constitution was written also demonstrates the Founders’ intention of maintaining an individual right to keep and bear arms.  They were quite skeptical of government’s potential to become tyrannical, and they believed that an armed citizenry would protect against such tyranny.  Perhaps the most entertaining line of the Michael article comes at the end of this section: “Daniel Polsby once asserted that no ambiguity at all surrounds the attitude of the constitutional generation concerning the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  To put the matter bluntly, the Founders of the United States were what we would nowadays call gun nuts.”

The final step for Mr. Michael is to examine the right to concealed carry as a right protected under the Second Amendment and therefore in no need of State legislation.  The argument boils down to the deliberate distinction between “keep” and “bear.”  To “keep” arms means to have passive, custodial possession of them, such as keeping them in the house.  To “bear,” however, implicates a more active conduct, which suggests the “active, exhibitory use of arms.”  Michael offers examples such as “he came bearing gifts.”  Thus, there are two rights being spelled out in the Second Amendment, the first being the right to essentially own firearms, and the second being the right to carry them, which Michael extends to concealed carry.

The author laments that much of the dialog and scholarship about the Second Amendment devolves into questioning authorial motives and a debate over the Constitution as a document that is “living” or one that is to be read in accordance with the original intent.  However, “such critiques reveal a weakness in the argument of those opposed to gun ownership – if the text and history of the Second Amendment supported their position, they would not resort to the living constitution argument.”

I will let Mr. Michael have the final word:

Concealed carry statutes appear to presuppose that individuals cannot carry concealed weapons but for the statutes. As described herein, such a presupposition may be inconsistent with the Second Amendment’s text. If it is, concealed carry statutes should be viewed as regulation of the preexisting, constitutional right to carry concealed weapons and, accordingly, should be subject to judicial scrutiny with the same level of vigor as any other statute regulating a constitutional right.


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Jake Tawney


  1. I agree and take it a step further.

    Almighty God, not the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, is the source of human rights.

    The cited documents are endorsements and guaranties of God-given freedoms. Government is a necessary evil. Unlimited government is a threat to human rights, peace and prosperity.

    Liberals’/progressives’ distortions, exaggerations, hysterics, omissions, and outright lies have been ripping away at liberty for a hundred years.

    In 2013, America is hurtling down the super-highway to serfdom.

  2. I also understood the “well regulated militia” part not as a qualifier or limitation, but as a recognition of why people need the right to individual ownership.

    Much along the lines of “because some form of collective protection provided by the government is a necessary evil so the country isn’t conquered, people have the right to own/carry guns in case the government provided protection turns on them.” In other words, the “well regulated militia” is a necessary evil, so the framers wanted to be sure the citizens had some protection from this necessary evil. Why esle even mention the militia?

  3. T Shaw,

    Actually I am not sure I agree. The are certain God-given freedoms, and being free from tyranny certainly falls under that. However, the manner in which government is organized and the legal rights that are put in place to protect against such a God-given freedom are matters of prudence and not God-given themselves. This is a subtle, but I think important distinction. It is a bit of a stretch to claim a God-given right to keep and bear arms.

    To put it in perspective, however, keep in mind that I am one who questions the existence of modern inalienable rights in the first place. Such a construction is the product of enlightenment philosophy and is completely foreign to Catholic thinkers prior to that time period. They would have spoke in terms of the natural law and the virtue of justice. (See my previous post on modern rights language for a detailed discussion of this.)

    I much prefer to talk about legal rights, and in this we agree (I think). It is a fundamental legal right for an individual to keep and bear arms, and keeping this fundamental right is an act of prudence in order to protect us against a tyrannical governing body.

  4. I have often wondered like cmatt above, if “a well regulated mililtia being necessary…” wasn’t part of the founder’s thinking about the need for the individual right.

    In much the same way that the constitution put checks and balances on the branches of government, and in a way, the 1st amendment includes freedom of the press, speech and religion as checks on them and each other as well. In that sense, is the INDIVIDUAL right to keep and bear arms a BALANCING CHECK against the militia? A way of “regulating the militia”?

    Perhaps that is a gross misreading, but has it been considered?

  5. 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.
    Madison’s: ““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.”
    Madison’s “free country”, a country established by free men and the Second Amendment’s “free state” a state established by a free people, a free citizenry , do indeed indicate that the individual citizen, person, must establish his free country and his free state from his freedom. Therefore, the free man’s freedom is a prerequisite for the establishment of the free state, free country.

  6. I think the requirement to get a permit to carry concealed is ridiculous. In Oregon, open carry is legal outside of some municipalities, but you need a permit to carry concealed. Ironically, though, if you carry an antique or a replica of an antique that uses a percussion cap, you don’t need a concealed carry permit. So I can carry a civil war replica revolver concealed. So you can conceal this without a permit, which fires a .44 caliber round:


    But not this, which fires a 0.17 caliber round which is about the size fired by a BB gun only with a lot more power:


    Go figure.

  7. Constitutional Carry seems to be pretty far down on the current DC agenda. I wish we were all gathered around in a hot debate of concealed-vs. open carry, but alas.
    That pesky word “bear”….. oh, those Founders! If they’d just stuck to “keep,” the progs could eventually argue all the scary bullet poppers into special gov’t storage depositories guarded by armed security personnel/Daleks.

  8. The whole concealed carry “permit” is really an infringment on the 2nd Amendment and is so much handwringing. Only those who are responsible bother to apply for such a permit. Does anyone think that someone who is out to rob a bank or hold up a liquor store gives a damn about the law?

    In the city I currently live in, they think you need a city issued permit to have a handgun at all let alone carrying it concealed. I keep my handguns in a different municipality, so it doesn’t apply to me but if I did have them with me, who’s getting harmed? I’m not going to be causing trouble, the only way any “trouble” would be getting caused would be if I happen to keep one at my house and the cops somehow (unconstitutionally, certainly) find it. The only “law” broken is the stupid city one, but if they never found it, no harm would have been done and everyone would be just fine. Hell, if I carried it around everyday nothing would happen unless the cops, again, somehow found it on my person randomly.

    Its like those stupid signs on some businesses that have a hand gun crossed out. Were I to carry into the store, nothing bad would happen and no one would even know. If someone wanted to rob the place, what good does the sticker do? Oh, yes, it lets him know that this place has a very high probability of not having anyone who is going to fight fire with fire and so he’s free to do what he wants…

  9. Everyone should have the right to self-protection. That’s a god given right, not a legal battle.

    And T. Shaw, why not? It’s a shame that the world has come to armed guards in schools, but better armed guards than dead children.

  10. I just saw in the news that California is considering requiring all gun owners to carry “violence insurance.” I’m wondering how they’ll get the gang-bangers to pay for insurance. There must be some way of keeping track of who has insurance and who doesn’t, just like they use car registration to determine who has insurance. Oh, wait…

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