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Teaching Guide

Teaching the Right to Bear Arms

Say hello to controversy.

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You won't find any machine gun-toting grizzlies here—the right to arm bears is a different lesson entirely. The right to bear arms is about the second amendment and one of the most contentious.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing data on gun ownership and violent crime.
  • lessons exploring firearms' place in American culture.
  • articles exploring the always-prominent debate surrounding the amendment.

We advocate the right to bear knowledge, so you've got that covered.

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  • 4-10 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
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Instructions for You

Most people have a distorted understanding of the language, and perhaps meaning, of the Second Amendment. In this exercise you will lead your students through an analysis of the text itself. They will respond to a series of questions (verbally or on paper) and re-draft the amendment so that various interpretations of the Second Amendment are made more clear.

1. Show your students the text of the Second Amendment and lead them through the following questions.

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.

  • How would you interpret this amendment?
  • Why are there two clauses? What is the relationship between them?
  • Does re-arranging the clauses change the meaning?
    • The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.
  • What if we turned this sentence into two sentences? Does the meaning change?
    • A well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
  • What is the militia? Who belongs to the militia? Who does not belong to the militia?
  • Who are “the people”? Are “the people” and the militia the same?
  • What is the difference between a militia and a well regulated militia?
  • Is there a difference between owning and using guns and keeping and bearing arms?

2. Ask your students to develop (individually or in groups) two alternative drafts of the Second Amendment in response to the following questions.

  • If the framers of the Second Amendment wanted to guarantee everyone an unqualified right to use guns for a wide range of purposes (self-defense, hunting, target practice, etc.) how might they have phrased the amendment differently?
  • If the framers of the Second Amendment wanted to guarantee only the right of states to form militias, how might they have phrased the amendment differently?

3. Debrief their drafts. Then ask your students to develop one final draft that unambiguously captures their interpretation of the framers intentions. It may be as long and detailed as necessary.

  • Do either of these capture the intentions of the Second Amendment’s framers?
  • What exactly, do you think, the Second Amendment was intended to protect?
  • Re-draft the amendment so that your interpretation of its meaning is absolutely clear.

(Lesson aligned with CA 12th grade American government standards 12.2.1)

Instructions for Your Students

Do you have an opinion on the Second Amendment? Do you know exactly what the amendment says? Well, here it is: 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.

Is this consistent with your understanding of the right to bear arms? Is any of the phrasing problematic? What exactly did the framers intend with this amendment? Be prepared to discuss these questions.

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