On the Nature of the Second Amendment

The second amendment to the US Constitution is kind of a tricky thing to deal with. There are actually two versions. The first, which was passed by congress:


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.


And the second, which was ratified by the states:


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.


There are three arguments to be made based on this discrepancy. The first I’ll look at concerns the first writing. Many people, notably those who desire to limit gun rights, or at least maintain the levels of restriction we have now, take advantage of the unusual parsing of the sentence and assert that the amendment actually protects existence of the militia and, by extension, its right to maintain weaponry without supporting the right for the people outside those guidelines. I do not support this argument.

The wording presented here, with its awkward parsing, doesn’t actually mean anything. The repeated commas prevent the sentence from ever completing a coherent thought, leaving the reader to guess at which of those four phrases were meant to go together. Legal wording needs to be clear, so this version should be cast aside.

The second argument, which I’ve surprisingly never actually heard, though I’ve considered it myself, is that since the amendment wasn’t passed and ratified with the same structure, the amendment should simply be discarded as invalid. After all, the legal process for amendments to the Constitution is very specific. The second amendment didn’t follow this process to the letter of the law, therefore it is invalid. I can accept this argument. I will heartily argue against it, but it is intellectually honest and conforms to the law.

Thirdly, my preferred argument is that, when faced with two similar sentences used for the second amendment, we should use the sentence that actually says something. “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.” This sentence has a clear meaning. What does the amendment concern? The right of the people to keep and bear arms. What does it say about this right? It shall not be infringed. Why should this right not be infringed? Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state. With the exception of the modern reader not understanding the eighteenth century usage of the phrase “well regulated” this version is beyond debate as to its purpose.

As to the eighteenth century usage of “well regulated,” it does not mean being under government regulation as so many seem to believe. Rather, it means functioning according to design. In fact, issuing governmental regulations of the militia is specifically against the purpose of the militia. The militia stands, in part to protect our nation from invading conquerors (a task which our modern military is more than capable of without direct help from the civilian populace), but more to protect our nation from elected representatives and their appointees whom may attempt to become conquerors. It is the final recourse of a population facing abuse.

With this view of the militia’s purpose in mind, I’ll address my specific views on the issue of gun rights. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed (within reason). Any mentally stable adult who is not currently under the jurisdiction of the correctional system should be allowed to own whatever small arms they desire and have the funds to procure. I suppose I should classify small arms for readers who may be ignorant on the subject of firearms (expected and understandable of those who wish for greater gun control). According to a Report of the Panel of Governmental Experts from a twenty year old UN resolution, small arms consist of revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns. This essentially means weapons that can be carried by a single man, which have the capacity to kill only one person with each action (with exceptions for extreme circumstances like a sniper killing two people who are standing in a line from his position or a shot fired resulting in some additional catastrophe which would kill multiple people). It does not include chemical or biological weapons nor explosives of any sort (assuming we’re not classifying the weapons propellant as an explosive) which could kill many people with a single activation of the weapon.

This means that every mentally stable adult not currently under the jurisdiction of the correctional system should be allowed to own weapons ranging from pistols to automatic rifles without any restriction. Yes, this even means that even a felon who has been freed from prison and is no longer serving parole should have this right (as they should have all rights restored at this point, but that’s an argument for another day).

Clearly, this interpretation of the amendment is not being honored by current state or federal law. While this is not the first constitutional violation in our nation’s history (that dubious honor belongs to the Adams administration with the passage of the Sedition Act of 1798) it is the first I learned of, with laws dating back to the Gun Control Act of 1934. Mind you, in the decades since I became politically aware, violations of the Bill of Rights have been many and varied (more topics for another day). The acceptance of violations to the second amendment, in conjunction with support of such from our media, is exactly what grants our government the ability to now violate the first, fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth amendments.

We, as a society, somehow consider these new violations to be acceptable (though I’ll stress that I vehemently disagree), but what happens when they go too far? Where will we turn when we have no speech, privacy, nor liberty? I can only hope that some semblance of the final recourse available, will still be strong enough to get the job done.

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