April 23, 2007

What Does The Second Amendment Mean Exactly?

There is a Danger of This

original drawing from the Economist

Becoming This

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.

I am always surprised that when some members of the left state that the 1st Amendment to the Constitution means exactly what it says or the 14th or the ______ (fill in the blank) that they do not believe that the 2nd also means exactly what it says (let alone the 10th). Scholarly attempts to tie the second amendment to the existence of a militia are numerous, and wrong-headed.

The last citation noted (well worth reading in its entirety) states very clearly:

Let’s go at this from another direction. Imagine that a Borkian inkblot covers the words “well regulated militia.” All we have is: “A [inkblot] being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” To make an intelligent guess about the obscured words, we would have to reason from the independent clause back to the dependent phrase. We would know intuitively that the missing words must be consistent with the people having the right to keep and bear arms. In fact, anything else would be patently ridiculous. Try this: “A well-regulated professional standing army (or National Guard) being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That sentence would bewilder any honest reader. He’d ask why such unlike elements were combined in one sentence. It makes no sense. It’s a non sequitur.

Imagine the deliberations of the Committee of Eleven, the group of House members to which Madison’s proposed bill of rights was referred. Assume that one member says, “We should have an amendment addressing the fact that the way to achieve the well-regulated militia that is necessary to the security of a free state is for the national government to respect the right of the States to organize and arm militias.” “No,” replies another member. “The amendment should reflect the fact that the way to achieve the well-regulated militia that is necessary to the security of a free state is for the government to respect the people’s right to bear arms.” If both members were told to turn their declarative sentences into the imperative form appropriate to a bill of rights, which one would have come up with the language that became the Second Amendment? The question answers itself.

Indeed, courts are now ruling that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right and indeed, the gun ban in Washington, D.C. has been overturned by the courts as unconstitutional. It is likely, however, that this ruling will be appealed to the United States Supreme Court where it is believed that the individual right, as opposed to a collective right, to keep and bear arms will be affirmed, but this is not a guarantee of outcome of course.

Yet, with an increasingly conservative court, it is entirely possible that this issue will be settled in favor of individual rights. Be that as it may, it is also possible that a future, more liberal court will find that the individual right does not exist, precedent not-withstanding. So, where does that leave us? The Democrats became anti-gun in the early 90's and it probably cost them dearly in the '94 elections. Of course, by 2006, guns were not an issue (except perhaps those being used in Iraq) and the Democrats were given majorities in both houses of congress. Now, with the shootings at Virginia Tech, the outcry for banning guns is once again in full force, but there are many Democrats that, having learned a lesson the hard way, will treat the issue like the third rail so to speak. And yet, there are still those who would ban the sale and manufacture of handguns based only on their use.

Of course, to a 2nd Amendment supporter, this is a curious POV in as much as no one believes that automobiles should be banned and they kill far more than guns do. There is the cry "Guns Kill People" and the opposite cry "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." Saying guns kill people is similar to saying a knife and fork make people fat, and that is obviously not the case.

Guns are tools, nothing more, nothing less. Handguns are tools to prevent harm to people, and, when used properly, they do just that. But, like any tool, guns can also be misused. If a person is stabbed, do we seek to ban knives? If a multitude of people were stabbed, would we? How about clubs, or swords or machetes? How about cars?

When the Democrats passed a ban on "Assault Weapons" all they were really doing was passing a ban on semi-automatic weapons that had the appearance of being an assault weapon. The cry then was no hunter needs an AK-47 to hunt with, but they would have had no problem with using say, an M-1 or perhaps a Benelli R-1, a Remington Model 7400 or even the discontinued Ruger 44 autoload. So really, it was only the appearance of being a military assault rifle that was banned. "Not so!" claim the proponents of the ban, AK-47s can easily be altered to fire automatically. Well folks, that is true of virtually every semi-automatic fire arm, pistol or rifle.

Today, some semi-pundits (Lawrence O'Donnell for one) would have you believe that Cho used automatic pistols and "sprayed" bullets at his victims. As Glenn Reynolds notes of O'Donnell:

Really, this kind of ignorance is inexcusable, at least among people who pretend that their opinions matter. It's like commenting on sex education when you don't know which bodily parts go where."
And this also applies to the clueless individual(s) who blamed the Virginia Tech Massacre on Charleton Heston and the Republicans for allowing the "Assaut Weapons Ban" to expire; and the beat goes on, and the beat goes on!

Of course, a substantial part of the problem is not necessarily who uses a gun to what purpose, it is that we have essentially become a nation of victims. Personal responsibility has been effectively taken out of the equation, Klebold and Harris were the victims of harrassment, Cho was the victim of racism and classism, yet, no one speaks of the real victims that might (underscore might) have been saved had a few well trained, pistol packing individuals been present at the time. And this is the real tragedy, requiring "Gun Free" zones only work if you follow the law, obviously, Cho as well as Klebold and Harris did not follow the law nor would any other individual planning to use a gun in the commission of a crime.

There is an answer out there somewhere, but banning guns isn't it.

Posted by GM Roper at April 23, 2007 12:17 PM | TrackBack

Here's a phrase from our Declaration of Independence:

...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...

Now, here's an interesting tidbit about the memorial honoring the man who wrote that--Thomas Jefferson.

When the Jefferson Memorial was built during the New Deal and selections of Jefferson's writing were inscribed on the walls, the planners chose to omit the passage from the Declaration of Independence saying that when government becomes destructive of our natural rights, we have the right to "alter or abolish" it. Washington didn't want the people to know that. Source: FFF

Given the history of government, I don't want a weapon simply to kill squirrels or keep burglars out. Citizens need adequate weapons to form a militia, if it's required to instill a new government for the reasons above.

Even radical liberals agree with that for their own reasons, except they refer to impeachment or civil disobedience as their means.

If the end justifies the means, then it's important to protect the second amendment with what speaks loudest.

Posted by Woody at April 23, 2007 01:25 PM

Most of the people who own arms aren't actually members of a well regulated militia.

Posted by e. nonee moose at April 23, 2007 03:39 PM

The right to own weapons is guaranteed with no restrictions--militia or none. The militias that need to be better regulated are the forces like those led by Janet Reno against the Branch Davidians and against the relatives of Elian Gonzalez.

Posted by Woody at April 23, 2007 03:54 PM

Moose, this article... linked above at the word "headed" explains that it is not necessary to be a member of a militia and explains it in a way that even Hillary could understand


Posted by GM Roper at April 23, 2007 06:18 PM

Anyone that would justify their argument by saying ALL amendments mean exactly what they say and then use an excuse as lame as "Well, all but the 2nd" is nothing more than a hypocrite...

The Constitution can and should be interpreted exactly as written, it's a lot like the Holy Bible, you either believe in EVERY word written, AS written, or you believe in none, it's not a 'pick and choose'...

Posted by TexasFred at April 23, 2007 07:17 PM

Those folks on the left that hate the 2nd and want to ban guns, preferring "civil disobedience" are just cowards. Civil disobedience doesn't work from the wrong side of a gun barrel.

Posted by kender at April 23, 2007 07:35 PM

hiya GM!..of courset the Leftards seized Virginia Tech to play out this political agenda...sickening my friend...truly!

Posted by Angel at April 23, 2007 08:54 PM

The problem is that when liberals say the 1st ammendment means "just what it says", then then change what the meaning of speech is (such as flag burning, lying about a sitting president during a war, or calling Christians terrorists because we think abortion and homosexuality is wrong, but of course we are not "speaking" when we rebut, we are "comitting a hate crime"). This is classic liberal tactics, when something doesn't go/isn't going your way, just change the rules, it doesn't even matter if the new rule makes any sense, as long as it means you win.

I hate to use a "tired old cliche", but on a blog run by an "old man", why not (sorry GM, I had to).

You can have my gun, when you pry it from my COLD, DEAD FINGER!

Don't like that, how bout you can have my gun, BULLETS FIRST!

And of course, guns kill people, just like SPOONS MADE ROSIE FAT (and ugly, and stupid)

Posted by Smokey at April 24, 2007 01:09 AM

I like how Reagan put it:


Posted by Ogre at April 24, 2007 05:26 AM

I wonder why it is that individuals have trouble understanding the words THE PEOPLE. Everywhere else that phrase is used it is understood to mean the mass of citizens but when used in the Second folks think it means a militia.

Moose, there is no requirement to belong to a militia, the RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE. However, if you were to conclude that, United States Code says that the militia is comprised of all males age 17-45 and all women who serve in the National Guard. Seems to me if you want to restrict guns to the militia, a lot more people should have them.

Walter E Williams has pages of quotes about the Second at his site. These are from the people who wrote the thing. If you want to know what they meant then read what they wrote. It is quite clear that they intended the population as a whole (THE PEOPLE) to have firearms.

Gun Quotes

Banning guns will not reduce gun crime. Heroin is absolutely illegal. There is absolutely no medical use for it and it is illegal to posses or use and yet, many people do just that. Why is it that the all out ban on something does not prevent its use? Perhaps because criminals do not obey the law. That is why we call them criminals...

This is a link to a poem I wrote about guns years ago (and it was published, thank you very much):

Don't Go Off Half Cocked

I hope that explains it better...

Posted by Big Dog at April 24, 2007 06:02 AM

I would needs say that the Constitution does need to be considered from start to finish in this realm and that we understand what it says. This is an area of grave concern as it involves more than just the Right to Bear Arms. We do not think of the entirety of the context of that compact We made and so forget what it says. I do my best to summarize it in - To Provide For The Common Defense. Again, lengthy, but I take pains to remind what the Constitution is by those who agree to it. What comes out, and clearly, is the Right of States to defend themselves in times of invasion or Danger, and that the first, best place to give organization to that, is the People. That comes under the idea that the States have Right to internal autonomy not only within the Union but with their People to defend themselves outside of the Federal strictures but in a way not to infringe upon those strictures. While 'militia' has context for the Federal side, and the strictures are in place for that Federal oversight and control, the Constitution guarantees that the States may operate outside of that without having a standing armed force, and yet still have structure so that the State may survive when the Federal government fails it or is tardy in response.

Seems to me we have had a *lot* of those failings over the past couple of decades. The Federal government refuses to uphold the common Law of the Land. When that happens the States *must* join with their People to defend themselves... and hold Federal government accountable for its lacks. Of course that requires that We not look *up* for solutions, but to Ourselves and the States, severally. And there is even a lawful way to start asserting that We are the ones to protect Ourselves when our less than perfect means fail Us. Arms is not just the personal right, it is the right that allows Us to have oversight in Our affairs and discharge our responsibilities set forth in that compact called the Constitution.

If we dare.

Posted by ajacksonian at April 24, 2007 06:28 AM

The Left wants to change almost every aspect of our Constitution...to their warped view of the Utopian world. The Left wants to everyone to hold hands, sing Kumbaya, serve cookies and milk, and provide help and services to the poor, the disadvantaged, the deserving...yep. This means we have to give up our rights first..if we're nice to everyone there would be no need for guns.

Posted by Raven at April 24, 2007 03:41 PM

Both Glenn Reynolds and Volokh Conspiracy handle the complexities of the issue well. There has been a viewpoint in law since the 1930's that the "militia" part trumps everything else in the amendment. That type of interpretation has been ascendant until recently. There has been increasing understanding that the "right of the people" and "militia" emphases do not lead to the same place, but that an understanding of the intent is possible nonetheless.

Posted by Assistant Village Idiot at April 24, 2007 04:40 PM

Understanding the 2nd requires a basic understanding of the English language. Everything leading up to the comma is the subordinate clause of the sentence. Everything after the comma is the independent clause, which means that the first part of the sentence is not required for the second part of the sentence to exist. The subordinate clause typically is a clause that expands or gives added meaning to independent clause.

So with this basic understanding in hand we can see that the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed may stand on its own.

I have noticed that many commenting on this post have been knocking the Dems and saying that they are destroying the Constitution. The difficulty I have is this: So are the Republicans!

The Republicans are dismantling the Constitution in their own special ways. We can start with the 4th through 6th ammendments.

Really it boils down to this what flavor do you like your usurper to be: American Fascist or American Communist. Either way our freedoms loose. So in my opinion we need our weapons if we want our freedoms

Posted by psyberwolfe at April 24, 2007 07:59 PM

I have read the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights numerous times and the plain words were written the way they were written to admit no misunderstanding - except the willful misunderstanding of people who wish to subvert the Constitution.

The price of our numerous benefits as citizens of this nation is that we must be vigilant - 24/7/365 and speak out - LOUDLY and clearly - when anyone, be they preacher, politician, pundit, whatever - in opposition to assaults on our nation's most basic law.

Posted by Gayle Miller at April 25, 2007 07:45 AM

This is not hard to understand. The first ten Amendments to the Constitution are RESTRICTIONS ON GOVERNMENT. They are a set of rules which are intended to put restrictions on and LIMIT the power of the federal government. If read in this (proper) contex the meaning of the Second Amendment is clear.... the government is not allowed to infringe on the peoples right to keep and bear (carry) arms.

Posted by Bruce V at April 25, 2007 09:34 AM

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