Geneaology of the Second Amendment
I was doing a bit of work on the documentary, and discovered a few facts about the Second Amendment's wording that had somehow escaped my notice over the last, oh, 30 years (I published my first law review article on it in 1975).
The immediate model for the Second Amendment is the bill of rights demands lodged by the Virginia ratifying convention (1788). I'll get back to that in a moment, but the choice of the VA demands was logical. They were the broadest guarantees, and, having been adopted with minor wording changes by New York and North Carolina, obviously had wide support. But where did the VA convention get its wording? I don't think they borrowed it from the earlier ratifying conventions, but rather went back to State bills of rights.
PA (1776) had guaranteed: "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state."
MA (1780) broaded this by adding "keep and" but narrowed it to for the common defense: "That the people have a right to keep and bear arms for the common defense."
VA (1776) made no express mention of a right to arms, but stressed the militia: "That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state."
So the VA ratifying convention simply took the MA declaration (broadened by "keep and bear"), and chopped off the narrowing "for the common defense." Then it stuck in semicolon and attached the VA provision. Both these cut and pastes were literally word for word. The VA ratifying convention request read: "that the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms is the proper natural and safe defense of a free state." [BTW, the punctuation differences are immaterial: no photocopy machines back then, and people copying a statement often punctuated as they pleased. Thus there are "official" copies of the Second Amendment with one and with three commas]. Note that the VA drafters used the broadest existing statements of both right to arms and militia importance. Example: take MA's right to keep and bear rather than PA's earlier to bear, but chop off MA's narrowing "for the common defense."
When Madison drafted up the amendment, he took the VA ratifying language direct, and added a couple of clauses: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person..."
The First Congress took his idea, cut out his additions (well armed and and the conscientious objector clause), thus taking it back to the VA language. [The only evidence as to why consists of arguments that the States should define conscientious objector status, lest it give Congress too much power over the militia]. It then reversed the order of the clauses, changed country to state (presumably because it was the best security of free governments, state and federal alike -- and note "free state" was what the VA 1776 declaration had used) and changed "the best security of" to "necessary to." (The House debates indicate the last was done because "best security" suggested there were other not-quite-so-good securities, and House members wanted it clear the militia was absolutely essential).
Essentially, the Second Amendment then became the VA ratifying proposal, with the sole change that the order of clauses was reversed, and the militia was said to be "necessary" rather than proper, natural and safe.
Here I point out that the MA "for the common defense" language got a second try. The Journal of the First Senate shows that someone moved to add the language back into the Second Amendment -- and it was voted down.