The fundamental issue being debated in the Supreme Court today is whether the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution was actually meant to protect an individual’s right to possess guns.
There are of course all kinds of arguments and statistics and rationale that have been bandied about on both sides of the issue. Even Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership have submitted an amicus brief.
But there is no precedent for this case currently before the Supreme Court and it therefore has to come down to the sitting justices’ interpretation of what the framers actually intended.
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.
From the perspective of language, it seems to me that the inclusion of an “and” could have precluded any argument.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, and the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The omission of the “and”, however, does not prove anything. In fact that non essential “and” may have been left out only because the sentence flows better without it.
I either read or heard an argument the other day that had been put forward by a historical linguist. He said that to “bear Arms” clearly has to refer to a militia, as that was an idiom for being a soldier (or something like that). However in the bit that was quoted, he never mentioned what “to keep…Arms” might mean.
There are other ways in which a good editor could have clarified the 2nd Amendment. For example:
As a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The right of the people to keep and bear Arms for a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, shall not be infringed.
I am an editor and I could play with that sentence all day, but it would never tell us what the framers had intended. To get an idea of intention, we have to look elsewhere. We have to understand the politics of the time, we have to understand history, and we should look at other things that the framers said and wrote.
James Madison is considered the author of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments to the US Constitution). He adapted the Bill of Rights from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which had been drafted by George Mason in 1776. One of George Mason’s sources had been the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Even the English Bill of Rights declares that “the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law”.
James Madison had initially been on the side that argued against a Bill of Rights, the danger being that if only certain rights were enshrined, then that would put all other of the natural rights of man at risk. A Bill of Rights would also assume that the government had powers that it had never in reality been granted.
I leave you now with a few quotes to help you decide what the framers really thought.
Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. – James Madison
The Constitution shall never be construed … to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms. – Samuel Adams
The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. – Thomas Jefferson
Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the People’s Liberty’s Teeth. – George Washington