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Supporting Claims with Evidence: The Second Amendment and Gun Control Debates

In this activity, students develop Common Core reading skills (eg. citing textual evidence, determining the central ideas, and determining meaning of words and phrases) through a study of the history of the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its significance today. First, students work independently, with some class discussion, to complete a close reading of the second amendment text and related primary and secondary documents. Then, students work in groups to prepare a presidential candidate for a debate in which he/she must defend a particular position, or claim, about the meaning of the second amendment and constitutionality of gun regulation.


  • Students will understand the meaning of the second amendment’s key words and structure. 

  • Students will understand the role of militias in colonial life and colonial attitudes about central government power.

  • Students will understand the spectrum of restrictions that state, local, and federal governments have placed on gun use and ownership in U.S. history.

This activity supports the following Common Core Literacy Standards in History/Social Studies:

  • RHSS.11-12.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole. 

  • RHSS.11-12.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas. 

  • RHSS.11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (eg. how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10) 

  • RHSS.11-12.5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.


Step 1. Introduce topic of Constitutional rights and gun control with a whole class discussion of these questions:

  • Who should be able to own a gun? 

  • What should the criteria be for owning a gun? 

  • What responsibilities should you have if you own a gun? 

  • Who should decide the rules for who can own a gun?

Step 2. Project and read aloud the text of the second amendment. Discuss as a class:

  • The second amendment is part of the Bill of Rights. What right is it protecting? 
  • What words tell you that? Who are “the people”?

  • What does “infringed” mean? [possible answers: intruded on; stepped on; interfered with] 

  • What is the difference between “keeping arms” and “bearing arms”?

Step 3. Students work independently to complete the Preamble Worksheet. Lead a brief share out of students’ responses to Part II. b to insure that they understand the meaning of the preamble to the second amendment.

Step 4. Students work independently to read and complete focus questions for Background Reading on Colonial Militias and Battle of Lexington. Lead a class-wide discussion to insure students understand the role of militias in colonial life, the responsibility of white male citizens to defend their communities, and the importance of local control of militias.

Step 5. Project the three different positions on gun control. Lead a class-wide discussion to review their meaning and identify which one has the most government restriction on gun ownership and use and which has the least government restriction on gun ownership and use.

Other possible discussion questions:

  • Why does Position 2 mention states (states can pass their own laws; sometimes these laws are controversial and the Supreme Court must decide whether or not they are constitutional)? 

  • In Position 3, why is an exception made for the police, military, and National Guard? 

Step 6. Divide the class into six smaller groups. Assign each group one of the three positions discussed in the previous step (each position will be defended by two groups). Handout Task Instructions and Worksheet. Students will work in small groups to complete the task.

Step 7. Ask each group to summarize their position in their own words and read their slogan. Each group should also share the best reason from any of the documents that supports their position.

Historical Context

When the U.S. Constitution was being ratified in 1789, many Americans were concerned that the new federal government would have too much power over states and individuals. To address these concerns, and to insure that enough states ratified the Constitution, the first U.S. Congress introduced a set of amendments known as the Bill of Rights. The second amendment, which addressed the right to bear arms, was part of the Bill of Rights. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, local and state governments passed a variety of laws about who could own guns and how they could use them. Starting in the twentieth century and into the current day, there have been ongoing political and legal debates over what degree of regulation of gun ownership and use is constitutional under the second amendment.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | American Social History Project, Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Supporting Claims with Evidence: The Second Amendment and Gun Control Debates,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 26, 2023,

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