I don't have anything new to say about the Supreme Court's Second Amendment decision, so here's what I wrote in 2004:
Original Intent of the Second Amendment: I haven't really been into guns since I desperately wanted a BB gun for my 9th birthday (see "Christmas Story" for details), but my son and I did some research recently into what the authors and ratifiers of the Bill of Rights intended to do by passing 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."
This wording is rather unusual -- besides the superfluity of commas -- in the context of the Bill of Rights in that it contains what appears to be a "whereas" clause, which most of the other first 10 amendments don't. The First for example, doesn't say, "A war of religion, being a bad thing, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
This anomaly has led many contemporary commentators to assume that the 2nd Amendment was meant only to apply to state militias and not to individual gun ownership. Here, for example, is Dahlia Lithwick in Slate confidently explaining that "Eminent legal scholars, including Sanford Levinson and historians such as Emory's Michael Bellesiles, have done some staggering scholarly work on the subject of the original intent of the Framers and the prevalence of guns at the time of the founding of the country."
Staggering, indeed. As the eminent Professor Bellesiles showed in his prizewinning book Arming America: My Fantasy of How Frontier Life Should Have Been, when an American in 1789 felt a hankering for deer meat, rather than resort to using a gun, he normally ran a deer down on foot and gnawed the beast to death with his teeth.
What my son and I found out about the original intent was the exact opposite. The research was a little frustrating to do because there was almost no debate among state legislators at the time about an individual right to gun ownership -- because that simply wasn't controversial. Of course Americans had the right to own guns: the woods were full of bars, Injuns, and bad 'uns. Nobody argued about it then because there was nobody at the time to argue with.
What was controversial back then were state militias -- trained bodies of fighters who could potentially resist the federal government. Legalizing militias -- i.e., alternative armies to the U.S. Army -- was obviously a much more radical step than legalizing individual ownership of firearms. Legitimizing militias was a concession that Federalists like Madison made to win the approval of those skeptical of the centralizing force of the Constitution.
When the Union Army won the Civil War, the idea of alternative armies started to look outdated, thus leading to the current misinterpretations of what the authors and ratifiers of the Second Amendment meant. Gun control advocates should feel free to argue than in an era of rocket-propelled-grenades and radio-dispatched police cars, the whole Second Amendment is obsolete and dangerous, but please don't make up stories about what it was supposed to mean.
The other big change is that the Bill of Rights didn't apply to the states until the 14th Amendment of 1868. For example, Connecticut had an establishment of religion until 1818. So, the ratifiers weren't establishing an absolute right of gun ownership, they were just preventing the federal government from infringing it.