The Founders would not have been surprised that the Second Amendment “right of the people to keep and bear arms” survives.
What would have surprised them was that it very nearly didn’t.
The right of self-defense it protects had been considered the primary law of nature since antiquity. Other governments may have forbidden their people to have weapons to protect themselves, but the English did not. Englishmen had a long-standing duty to be armed to keep the peace and, beginning with the English Bill of Rights of 1689, that duty became a right.
Like other rights Americans derived from England, the original English right to have arms had restrictions — in this case religious and class limits, although these fell away by the early 19th century. In his classic work popular with the Founders, “Commentaries on the Laws of England,” William Blackstone referred to the right of having arms as a “natural right of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”
He insisted no government could take the right to self-defense away. In contrast to any limitations on the English right, the American Second Amendment assumed “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and decreed it “not be infringed.”