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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.
Some interpreters, notably gun control advocates, interpret "well regulated militia" as a government-led body. On this grounds, these interpreters assert that the Second Amendment does not give private citizens the right to bear arms. They see bearing arms as a privilege granted to private citizens at the discretion of government.
Other interpreters, mainly those favoring gun rights, maintain that the term "militia" in the Colonial Era referred to the armed citizenry as a whole (as distinct from a government-led body such as a standing army). On this grounds, these interpreters assert that the Second Amendment does give citizens the right to bear arms whether the government agrees or not. These interpreters generally agree, however, that certain unqualified people such as the certifiably insane or convicted violent felons should not be permitted arms. The degree of opposition to licensing of gun owners, comparable, say, to driver's licenses, varies among these interpreters.
The United States Supreme Court in its 1939 decision U.S. v. Miller declared that only those firearms that have "some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia" are protected. Many localities have laws against private citizen's bearing of guns; none of these laws have ever been struck down by the court (the Brady Bill[?] was partially struck down in 1997 because of states' rights concerns, not because of the Second Amendment). It is therefore likely that the Supreme Court does not agree with the second interpretation given above. For sixty years, the US government also rejected the second interpretation. In a brief filed in 2002 by John Ashcroft's Justice Department, this position was reversed: the amendment "broadly protects the rights of individuals, including persons who are not members of any militia or engaged in active military service or training, to possess and bear their own firearms, subject to reasonable restrictions designed to prevent possession by unfit persons or to restrict the possession of types of firearms that are particularly suited to criminal misuse". A similar position had been expressed earlier in a 2001 decision by the federal appeals court in New Orleans.
See gun politics.