What Did "Bear Arms" Mean in the Second Amendment?

20 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2008

See all articles by Clayton E. Cramer

Clayton E. Cramer

College of Western Idaho

Joseph Edward Olson

Hamline University - School of Law


Among the many heated controversies concerning the Second Amendment is the correct meaning of the phrase keep and bear arms. Those who argue that the original meaning of the Second Amendment was only to protect a collective right, either of the states to maintain militias, or perhaps of citizens to jointly form state-controlled militias, assert that bear arms refers exclusively or at least overwhelmingly, to the military carrying of weapons. Some have claimed that even keep arms was exclusively military in its meaning. While one might challenge the overly narrow focus on bear arms instead of the entire phrase keep and bear arms, those arguing for a collective right have thrown down the gauntlet by making this strong claim about just two words. This paper demonstrates that the Founding Generation did not understand bear arms as limited to military or collective militia duty but saw it as merely one way of expressing the concept of possession (as a modern speaker might say carry a gun).

Keywords: bear arms, Second Amendment

Suggested Citation

Cramer, Clayton E. and Olson, Joseph Edward, What Did "Bear Arms" Mean in the Second Amendment?. Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1086176

Clayton E. Cramer

College of Western Idaho ( email )

5500 East Opportunity Drive
Nampa, ID 83687
United States

Joseph Edward Olson (Contact Author)

Hamline University - School of Law ( email )

1536 Hewitt Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104-1237
United States

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