Last Updated on January 16, 2023 by Constitutional Militia
2nd Amendment: The Word “Necessary”
What is “necessary” is “impossible * * * to be dispensed with”.
Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1913), at 967, definition 2.
2nd Amendment: The Word “Necessary”
The word “necessary” itself appears in the Bill of Rights only in 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”. Here the adjective “necessary” is employed, not for the purpose of granting a power, but instead with the aim of identifying the degree to which “the security of a free State” depends upon “[a] well regulated Militia”, and thereby justifying “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”. (That right * * * shall not be infringed because “[a] well regulated Militia” is “necessary”. Inasmuch as this is the only instance in which the Constitution explicitly specifies anything in particular as “necessary” for any particular purpose, and inasmuch as the absolute clause “[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” is couched in the present tense, the Constitution obviously considers “the security of a free State” to be a permanent goal, and “[a] well regulated Militia” to be the one and only means truly “necessary” to achieve that goal at all times and under all circumstances. That is, “the security of a free State” and “[a] well regulated Militia” are mutually inseparable and constitutionally indispensable.
Thus, in general, the Second Amendment emphasizes that the original Militia powers of Congress (and the States, too) are unconditional duties, which must be exercised at all times and under all circumstances in such a manner as to ensure that each and every one of “the Militia of the several States” is “well regulated” with respect to organization, armament (and other equipment), discipline, training, and appointment of officers. In addition, both Congress and the States must exercise all of their other powers consistently with the maintenance of such Militia. More specifically, the Second Amendment declares in unmistakable terms that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”, which is the essence of “[a] well regulated Militia”, is absolute with respect to all such definitions of “keep”, “bear”, and “Arms” as may be compatible with any form of Militia service. And both Congress and the States must exercise all of their powers so as to promote the widest application of this “right”. Any power exercised in any other manner would to that extent be misconstrued or abused.
The short answer as to why State militias are “necessary” is, of course, because the Constitution says so. The electoral process, the courts, and numerous other institutions existed in 1788, when “the Militia of the several States” were incorporated into the original Constitution, and in 1791, when the Second Amendment first declared that “[a] well regulated Militia” based on “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is “necessary to the security of a free State”—and were expected to continue to exist thereafter. Yet no one who read the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights imagined that WE THE PEOPLE expected those institutions to render the Militia irrelevant. And even after “the Civil War Amendments” were added in 1865, 1868, and 1869, Congress maintained the Militia in essentially the same form it had first provided in 1792.
Reading the Constitution from beginning to end, there is just one thing in the entire document declared “necessary” for any particular purpose—“[a] well regulated Militia”.
Other than the Preamble, the Second Amendment is the only clause in which the Constitution explains the reason for any right, power, privilege, duty, or disability that it recognizes—”a free State”.