(Note: This blog entry doesn't incorporate the book's format.)
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.
That’s it – all the words and punctuation used in the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of what is known as The Bill of Rights.
Now, I haven’t asked her, but I assume my editor would have some problems with the placement of those commas. There really are too many of them for that sentence to make any sense, as structured. If you use the standard rule to read and understand the sentence, removing the parts between the commas, you can make that mean all kinds of things.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, shall not be infringed.” That makes sense. That would mean that nobody should infringe or prohibit the formation of a well regulated Militia.
“A well regulated Militia, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This is a little different. As read, it would mean a well regulated Militia is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” with the commas being there for emphasis.
But if we are to leave all the words in there, and arrive at the meaning that most people understand this thing to carry (apologies to Mr. Madison), it should probably go more like 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.
Just one comma. See? That means because a well-regulated militia is necessary to keep your country free, nobody should jack with the people’s right to keep and carry weapons. That’s what we think the amendment was trying to say. But now that we understand that, we have to consider the broader implications.
Forgive me. I know this is taking more time than you wanted it to, but it’s vitally important. So important, as a matter of fact, that there are people willing to kill and die over it. So the least you can do is read a little more in an effort to understand it - especially if you are one of those people. Let’s dissect the sentence, shall we? We’ll also do that without all the improper caps.
A well-regulated militia... Should we consider what “well regulated” means? It’s not spelled out anywhere in the Bill of Rights. We pretty much know what it means to regulate something; and we therefore pretty much know what it would mean to do that well. But in order for somebody to regulate something, there really has to be a regulator, doesn’t there? So, who, or what, is to be the regulator of the militia?
Because the document is designed to enumerate some rights of United States citizens and limit the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings (That’s what most people understand the purpose to be.); and because of the previous language in the Constitution to which it is an addendum, stating in Article. I. Section. 1. (more unnecessary punctuation and improper caps, but get used to it): “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives,” we have to assume the Congress is the regulator. No?
So, it is Congress that regulates the militia. It isn’t the members or the officers or the Board of Directors of the militia that regulate it. It is Congress. And we all know what Congress is. No, I mean we all know what Congress was, as referenced in the Constitution.
Given that, the next thing to do is to define “militia,” because as simple as it seems, there is a great deal of contention on this point.
Per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition:
1. a: a part of the organized armed forces of
a country liable to call only in an emergency.
b: a body of citizens organized for military service.
2: the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service.
Isn’t it quite interesting that, even in 2013, that definition is specific to males? But, so be it.
We have to recognize, however, that when James Madison wrote this in 1789 there wasn’t a Merriam – Webster online dictionary. Even if there would have been one, nobody could have found it, because Al Gore had not yet invented the internet. So, we have to take a look back to see if we can determine what might have been the definition of “militia” in those days.
During Virginia’s ratification convention in 1788, George Mason, who we consider to be one of the founders of this country and along with Madison, “the father of the Bill of Rights,” said this:
“I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole
people except for a few public officials. To
disarm the people is the best and most
effectual way to enslave them.”
Given his credentials, I’d say that definition would be pretty accurate for the day. But, just to be clear, here’s another one – from the “Initiator of the Declaration of Independence,” Richard Henry Lee:
“A militia when properly formed are
in fact the people themselves…
and include all men capable of bearing
arms…To preserve liberty it is essential
that the whole body of people always
possess arms and be taught alike,
especially when young, how to use them…”
Even Madison, who penned the amendment, had more to say about it:
“…A well regulated militia, composed of the
body of the people, trained to arms, is the best
and most natural defense of a free country…”
That’s enough. Pull the plug. A militia, as defined
by the guys who should know, is pretty much all able bodied citizens, armed and ready to defend their country. But from what?
The first hint, although even harder to read than some of my own scribblings, is this (my favorite) from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers:
“There is something so far-fetched and so
extravagant in the idea of danger to liberty
from the militia that one is at a loss whether
to treat it with gravity or with raillery;
whether to consider it as a mere trial of
skill, like the paradoxes of rhetoricians;
as a disingenuous artifice to instill prejudices
at any price; or as the serious offspring of
political fanaticism. Where in the name of
common sense are our fears to end if we may
not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors,
our fellow citizens? What shadow of danger
can there be from men who are daily mingling
with the rest of their countrymen and who
participate with them in the same feelings,
sentiments, habits, and interests?”
Gawd, I wish I could write like that. I mean, it’s beautiful, isn’t it? Even if you don’t know what the hell it means, it’s just beautiful. But, in case you don’t (know what it means), it means there’s no reason for any of us to be afraid of the militia, because the militia is us – our sons, brothers, and neighbors. Of course that was written quite a while before our Civil War, which literally pitted brother against brother, but it’s a sweet thought, just the same. Still, who is the militia protecting us from?
Well, here it comes, from Noah Webster in An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 1787:
“Before a standing army can rule, the people
must be disarmed; as they are in almost every
kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in
America cannot enforce unjust laws by sword;
because the whole body of the people are armed,
and constitute a force superior to any bands
of regular troops that can be, on any pretense,
raised in the United States.”
We might recognize Webster as the guy whose name appears on the dictionary referenced earlier in this chapter. He obviously knew a lot about words and their meanings, and we would have to consider that he was pretty well-versed in the concepts of the day as well. And what he is saying here is that this militia everybody thought was so important – made up of the people – should not only be armed, but better armed than the army! This, just in case the leaders of the country tried to impose their will on the people when the people didn’t want that.
Now, this gets a little trickier. If the leaders of the country are the elected representatives (Congress), and Congress is charged with regulating the militia (made up of the people), and the militia feels the need to use their arms against the leaders (Congress), then would it be…prudent…for Congress to regulate the militia so extremely that it would not be possible for them to prevail? Just asking. Surely, those guys don’t want to lose their jobs. Or their heads.
Thus far, it is pretty easy to understand the mindset of the gun-toting pseudo Rambos who swear that the government can take their weapons when they pry them from their cold dead hands. No matter why your average run-of-the-mill citizen thinks the 2nd Amendment was penned, a brief study of history makes it pretty clear that it wasn’t for hunting, or even protecting family, home or property from bad guys. It was so that the citizenry would be more powerful than the government and capable of fighting and defeating them if the need to do so ever came up. It was, just as the “gun nuts” say: to defend us from tyrants.
But, who is to decide who is a tyrant? The people. And who are the elected representatives of the people? Congress. And who, again, regulates the militia? Congress. And who also regulates the enforcement agency of the United States of America, aka the military? Congress. So, who would the militia be fighting should they take up arms against the government? The military. And who makes up the military? The people. And who are the people? The sons and brothers and neighbors and fellow citizens of the other people, the militia. So, who’s on third base? What’s that spell? What’s that spell? What’s that spell? Civil War!