Explaining the Second Amendment
Some things “bear” repeating. The Second Amendment is: “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.”
In light of the Las Vegas tragedy and the debate about gun rights and regulation of gun rights, I began to wonder about the amendment’s grammar and sentence structure. Here’s a good analysis: http://blogs.denverpost.com/opinion/2013/02/12/a-grammar-lesson-for-gun-nuts-second-amendment-does-not-guarantee-gun-rights/33796/. The question is why the framers chose the words they did, then put them in this order to convey their meaning. We can consider some background.
There was no standing federal army in 1789. Yes, the Constitution does authorize a navy. But people were very suspicious of standing armies because, historically, they had caused a lot of trouble. Plus, they were a problem to pay for. (Seen the national budget lately?) Better to let the states of the new country keep the militias they already had; but make sure to state that these “state” militias are “free” of federal interference. The object was both to have individual militias that could be called up in the event of a national need, and also to be effective in maintaining “security” in each of the 13 “free state(s)”. During the Revolutionary War the quality of the militias left much to be desired, therefore they needed to be “well regulated.” Furthermore, the federal government will not later seek to reduce, interfere, or “infringe” on the militias.
So, grammatically, the subject of the sentence are the state militias. Then here’s why we want these: security. Then how that can happen: The militias will need arms and be well managed.
Now assume for a minute that the framers wanted to write an amendment to guarantee that all citizens have a right to own guns. Let’s try this: “All citizens have the right to own guns.” Simple. Nothing needed about “militia” or state security or “bearing arms” (which is actually a military expression: British a. to carry weapons b. to serve in the armed forces; American 1. to carry or be equipped with weapons 2. to serve as a combatant in the armed forces). “Arms” are not your Saturday night special or your favorite deer rifle.
Supreme Court Justice Scalia wrote the Heller opinion that changed the official meaning of the Second Amendment to an individual right from the states’ right to maintain a militia. He said he put a lot of stock in what the framers meant. He said we should look at the words that were used. Did he?
Speaking of Scalia, he also said in his opinion: “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” And more, to paraphrase, these are by no means the only restrictions. Funny how all that is now completely ignored. Oddly, about the first thing signed by the Trump administration was a reduction on restrictions on buying guns by the mentally ill. Who can say why that was necessary?
The carnage that guns cause in the United States is orders of magnitude greater than in any other industrialized country. American gun laws are archaic and inhumane. “God, guns and gays” have been three focal points of the Republican Party and contributed greatly to their political success. Too bad tens of thousands must suffer and die because so many of our politicians only care about reelection.
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