Constitution Tuesday: 2nd Amendment


It’s happening.  Armed with a venti black iced coffee and a mountain of research, I’m ready to talk about the Second Amendment.

The text:

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.

What do people think it means?  Up until the 1980’s, this amendment was never interpreted or invoked as an individual rights issue.  Along with shoulder pads and hair bands came the NRA’s infiltration of the legal system on behalf of their own interests.  The previous leaders of the National Rifle Association were pushed out by authoritarian right wing activists and, what was once an organization focused on training and hunting became a guns rights activist organization.  From there, the NRA funded think tanks and legal scholarships with the sole goal being to influence the court systems on their implementation of the 2nd Amendment.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in the last election cycle alone, the NRA and associates spent $1,092,750 in campaign contributions and $3,188,000 in lobbying contributions.  What many believe is a defense of a constitutional right is, in actuality, manipulation by a super-rich organization to obtain unlimited power.

What does it really mean?  Let’s face it: Much of the original language of the Constitution sounds more like Yoda than plain English.  A lot of syntax has changed since this amendment was written, so let’s first make sure we’re fully understanding the words themselves and their context.

Well regulated – Controlled or directed, held to a set of standards.  This phrase is vital!  This was the Framer’s way of differentiating between a coordinated and controlled body of people (men, at the time) and a mob with a flag.

Militia – Citizens who can be called upon by the government to enter combat in emergency situations.  Every man of a certain age was required to be available for militia duty, if necessary.  Because there was no mass production of firearms in the 1700’s, this meant that a man would be required to bring his gun from home.  The purpose of the militia was to be in service to the country’s government.  Much of the amendment’s purpose is irrelevant now because of the U.S. Armed Forces’ limitless access to firearms; so it is not only unnecessary, but ridiculous, to assume we still need to BYOG (Bring Your Own Guns).  Irrelevant, still, because a militia was required due to a relatively small population and official army.  Currently, the United States has the second largest military worldwide and is known as the strongest.  A militia is no longer necessary.  Our diverse folks in uniform have this under control.

Here is where, if you paid attention in English grammar, all argument becomes irrelevant.  The amendment was written in nearly opposite order of how we commonly phrase things today. Similar to absolute clauses, these sentences were structured so that the first dependent clause described the conditions under which the rest of the sentence was valid. Consider the phrase: A reward being earned, the child received an ice cream cone. To rearrange it, you need to insert a because: The child received an ice cream cone because a reward was earned. With grammatical understanding, and respect to the originalism the GOP so desperately clings to, the second amendment states that:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state:

  • In a time where there weren’t more guns than people.
  • When guns were muskets and not state of the art automatic machine guns.
  • When the U.S. didn’t have the most advanced military in the world.

But, the Founding Fathers!  The NRA website still claims many quotes by President Jefferson (that grammar and context render irrelevant) but one sticks out as a particularly blatant example of the gun lobby’s manipulation of information.  The quote, “one loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them” seemingly insinuates that Jefferson advocated for the possession of firearms as a means of safety and self defense.  In reality?  This phrase was a metaphor in a letter he wrote to Washington requesting a copy of a political report that he handed over to Hamilton and never got back.  He says that he wants to be armed with information, not guns, in case of blackmail.


There you have it, folks.  Armed with accurate information and a healthy understanding of English grammar, we cannot lose.

Mac, out.


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