The Bill of Rights and Guns

Explores the origins of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. Also explores relevant Supreme Court decisions and engages students in the current debate over gun regulation.

What Are the Origins and Interpretations of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms?

Clock 120 minutes

The Founders wanted to be sure they preserved the right to keep and bear arms as they established their new sovereign government. Americans asserted a natural right to defend themselves and their property against all threats, including tyranny of any kind, foreign or domestic. The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights was included to reflect the concerns of many citizens in a number of states. This lesson explores the origins of this amendment.

Founding Principles

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Property Rights image

Property Rights

The natural right of all individuals to create, obtain, and control their possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, as well as the fruits of their labor.

Overview

The Founders wanted to be sure they preserved the right to keep and bear arms as they established their new sovereign government. They did not want, as some put it, to trade one tyrant for another. Americans asserted a natural right to defend themselves and their property against all threats, including tyranny of any kind, foreign or domestic. The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights was included to reflect the concerns of many citizens in a number of states.

Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand the historical roots of the right to keep and bear arms.
  • Analyze Second Amendment controversies.
  • Analyze how colonists and the British regarded control of weapons.
  • Compare gun issues in 1775 to a modern gun controversy.
  • Evaluate arguments about how best to protect personal security.

Materials

  • Handout A: Background Essay – What Are the Origins of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms?
  • Handout B: The Second Amendment
  • Handout C: Tickets
  • Handout D: Group Discussion Guide
  • Handout E: Town Council Discussion Guide

Standards

  • NCHS (5-12): Era III, Standards 1C
  • CCE (9-12): IB1
  • NCSS: Strands 2, 5, and 10

Background 10 minutes the day before

  1. Have students read Handout A: Background Essay – What Are the Origins of the Rights to Keep and Bear Arms?
  2. Display or distribute Handout B: The Second Amendment. Discuss the wording and ask students to consider the meaning of the Amendment.

Warm-up 10-15 min.

  1. Using Handout C: Tickets, copy enough tickets before class for approximately three equal groups: British Soldiers, Concord Town Council, and Sons of Liberty.
  2. As students enter the room, hand each one a “ticket.” Use the tickets to assemble the students into three identity groups (“Group One”) from 1775.
  3. In a jigsaw activity, have each “Group One” meet to read and discuss the scenario on Handout D: Group Discussion Guide. Have them record their answers on their own paper.
  4. Choose two students from each of the groups to form new six-member groups. Each “Group Two” will be made be made up of two from the British Soldiers, two from the Concord Town Council, and two from the Sons of Liberty groups.

Activities 70-90 min.

(Time estimate includes time for independent research.)

  1. Have students jigsaw into their newly assigned “Group Two” configuration and give each group a copy of Handout E: Town Council Discussion Guide. Have each pair of students explain their response on Handout D to the Concord Town Council members.
  2. Record general types of responses from each Sons of Liberty and British Soldiers group.
  3. Ask the pair representing the Concord Town Council within each group to listen to each group and then fill out Handout E and explain which side (if either) the council will support in the deepening controversy.
  4. Have the Town Council members from each Group Two report to the whole class their answers to Handout E.
  5. Close by asking the class to discuss any lessons for today that they can draw from the role-playing activity. Possible discussion questions:
    1. Does the United States face any current challenges that might be similar to the challenges faced by Concord citizens?
    2. What future challenges might the United States face that might be similar to those faced by Concord citizens?
    3. How might the right to bear arms relate to the need to provide security today?
    4. Why might some people favor more or less restrictive gun regulation laws?

Homework

  1. Present political cartoons related to the Second Amendment, gun control laws, and other pertinent current issues. Have students analyze the cartoons for what they reveal about views of the Second Amendment.
    1. Have students draw a political cartoon presenting their point of view on a current gun issue such as allowing airline pilots to carry guns, laws forcing people to register their guns with the government, school shootings, or kids not being allowed by schools to wear shirts with slogans mentioning guns or illustrations picturing guns.
  2. Have students write a two to three paragraph response to the following question: One argument against gun control laws is that tyrants will always try to take citizens’ weapons. Do you agree or disagree? Use examples from history or today to support your answer.

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