Monday, November 22, 2010

How to interpret the 2nd Amendment

There's usually a lot of noise and confusion surrounding the 2nd Amendment, the section in our Bill Of Rights which, in my opinion, gives me the right to own guns. 

The amendment reads as follows:

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 it is, sitting in the second seat of the bus, with all the other restrictions on government power. 
Every other bullet point in the Bill Of Rights is designed to limit the power of government in relation to the governed, and we drift off into silliness when we try to see Amendment #2 through any other lens.   The 2nd Amendment, just like all the others, is meant to protect us from government, just like the other nine amendments in the Bill Of Rights. 

Unfortunately, after years of court cases brought by the Nanny State, this is how many of us now see the original intent of the amendment:

Since our government needs an army to preserve freedom and ward off foreign invaders, we grudgingly admit that members of our primitive Citizen Militias should be allowed to own weapons. 

And since we no longer have a Citizen Militia that has to get out of bed in the middle of the night to fight the Redcoats, we no longer have a need for guns in our homes.  Or so they would have us believe. 

The guys who composed the Bill Of Rights wanted to put some severe limits on government power.  They knew that if left unchecked, without ironclad protections, the governing class would try to restrict freedom.  I don't understand the mindset of nannies and busybodies, but the last 10 years have seen an alarming rise in those pesky species of political varmints.   Most libertarians share that concern with The Founders.  Mostly because they believe that the 2nd Amendment, just like all the others, is meant to protect us from government, just like the other nine amendments in the Bill Of Rights !!

Go here and browse through the complete Bill Of Rights.  Look at how they're worded.  Many of them have a little disclaimer that grudgingly admit that, dammit, some level of government is necessary.  But look at the phrases used:

....but in a manner prescribed by law.
....but upon probable cause....
....unless on a presenment or indictment....
....shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.


In these amendments, The Founders are saying that because of the necessary evils of courts, trials, responses to emergencies, and the occasional need to search a house, there are going to be certain rules in place to ensure that government doesn't go too far. 

In Amendment #2, The Founders agree that the government needs a militia.  The militia is a necessary evil, no more, no less. 
But because the government gets to have a militia, and government always needs to be held in check, guess what?  Well, the right of everyone else to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. 
Here's an interpretation of the 2nd Amendment that I believe is much closer to the original intent:

Since a government militia is an unfortunate necessity, and we have a distrust of government in all its forms, the citizens who are not members of the militia have a duty to keep and bear arms.  Just in case the government's militia starts getting uppity. 

If you read that version in the context of the other nine government restraints in the Bill Of Rights, the wording makes a lot more sense, doesn't it? 


The 2nd Amendment cartoon came from here

18 comments:

Dr Ralph said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sled said...

I would add that in the framers time, the 'militia' was considered all citizens who could effectively use a rifle. A invading enemy would thus meet the militia anywhere and everywhere. To 'well regulate' said militia would mean to ensure the proper marksmanship and adequate weapons and ammunition. As it is done in Switzerland today. The formalized National Guard is a relatively recent invention; unfortunately many think the NG is what the second amendment is referring to.

Anonymous said...

Wait, we have militias. Its everyone that owns a gun, anybody at the shooting range or off duty/retired cop/military, hunters, and weekend shooters. You think if we get invaded people are just going to stick around and do nothing? Also the national guard is considered a militia. I think you fundamentally misunderstand the word militia, it doesn't need to be a formal group.

Anonymous said...

Most people ignore the most obvious evidence that the Second Amendment is intended to protect an individual right - the language. The writers then were very particular in their use of language. Look at all the amendments and the Constitution itself. Always:
"The people" refers to individuals.
"The States" refers (of course) to the member states.
"The Government" refers to the federal government.
There are other words used as well to represent the government but individuals are always "people" or "person" (and in the 4th Am., "Owner").
And notice that the 2nd Am. says that the individual right to bear arms is to protect the security of "the State". Not to protect or serve "the Government".

Anonymous said...

Why so silent on the words "well-regulated"?

You can't wish them away; enshrined within the second amendment itself is the foundation for restrictions on who may own guns and what types they may own.

Anonymous said...

I agree with where you are going with this, sir, but you've missed a key point. The 2nd Amendment doesn't give you anything at all. It is a protection of the right you have to begin with.
It may seem a small technicality, but be careful: if you claim you are given a right, you're joined with the statists.

As an answer to "well regulated," the meaning of the time might be more likened to "well trained and correct in conduct."

Anonymous said...

"As an answer to 'well regulated,' the meaning of the time might be more likened to 'well trained and correct in conduct.'"

And the meaning of the time for "arms" might be more likened to "muskets and muzzle-loaded rifles."

Are we going to interpret the language of the amendment with a modern eye or not? I'm fine with it either way, but pick one and stick with it.

Dr Ralph said...

Hmm... Has anyone else noticed the irony of posting this screed on the anniversary of John F Kennedy's assassination?

Just asking...

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Doctor,
You are not alone in noting that this coincides with LBJ's coup. Just think if Kennedy had had a few bodyguards shooting back at the grassy knoll....I think the world woulda been shocked to learn which "militia" the shooters belonged to.

But seriously, as to your first point, my right to defend myself is guaranteed in Amendment #2. I'm just advocating a different way of interpreting the Founders' reasoning.

Dr Ralph said...

WS - note: JFK *did* have armed bodyguards; they're called the Secret Service. The lesson here is that having all kinds of firepower at the ready doesn't necessarily make one all that much safer.

As to your reference to LBJ's "coup" I've heard quite a few voices in WingNut land suggest the 2nd amendment enables an appropriate solution to a government they don't like.

Which sounds a lot like what happened in Dallas those 47 years ago.

I have no problem with people defending their person. It's when they decide other things need defending as well that I get edgy.

Anonymous said...

In response to As an answer to "well regulated," the meaning of the time might be more likened to "well trained and correct in conduct."

Well-regulated did not mean "well-trained and correct in conduct" and you know this. If the idea was to have a well-trained militia, they would have said well-trained rather than regulated.

Quit trying to revise history.

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Here's the deal, if the Second Amendment says and means 'well regulated armies' or what - I'll go with the Ninth Amendment. Everything in the Bill of Rights isn't an exclusive list of rights. These rights are just the ones enumerated (not granted) - but ain't all!

I believe that I own myself and Dr. Ralph and all the Anons own somewhere in the 0% range of of me. I also own my stuff that I got through honest trade and labor exchange. As owner of myself and my stuff, I have a right to do with myself and my stuff as I see fit without the interference of government provided I don't interfere with the equal rights of others. Consequently, I have the right to protect myself and my stuff.

So, I can own guns.

Dr Ralph said...

TarrantLibertyGuy - I like you, man, but I'm not interested in owning any percentage in you. In the immortal words of Billy Rose, "Never invest in anything that eats or needs painting."

Nick Rowe said...

Ralph, don't you own a house and have a wife and kids?

A pet?

I wish I had heard of Billy Rose 20 years ago.

Nick Rowe said...

The well regulated clause of the 2nd Amendment is prefatory, commonly used to describe the purpose or necessity.

Whatever you think "well regulated" means, it cannot negate the latter, effective clause.

1. "Keep" means to retain possession of.

2. "Bear" means to carry on one's person.

3. "Well regulated" cannot be so restrictive as to defeat the purpose of the right, namely to ensure the security of the State from the Federal government.

To believe another interpretation is to say that in 1791, our states ratified 9 sets of the most sacred rights of mankind and packaged them with a useless statement that "you can't take arms away from soldiers."

When the 2nd Amendment was passed, the STATES were the preeminent protectors of liberty. Almost all states had Bills of Rights which unequivocally guaranteed an individual right to bear arms.

Only after the 14th Amendment, seven decades later, was the Bill of Rights applied to the states to protect the rights of freed slaves.

The 9th Amendment makes it clear that the Bill of Rights does not list all our rights. The right to self-defense is an inalienable right.

Some of our Founders opposed the Bill of Rights, not because they didn't believe in it, but because they NEVER wanted anyone to think that the Constitution confers rights. Some people have already forgotten this.

When the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they pronounced on their own accord that the presiding government had become so oppressive that dissolving bands with it was necessary. Their Declaration was considered an act of treason and insurrection.

I do not defend the view that our present government is so oppressive it needs to be overthrown by force. However, people throughout the world and throughout history have taken it upon themselves to do just that. Unlike leftist revolutionaries, our Founders were not evil men, replacing one repressive government with another.

The Declaration of Independence states that dissolving the bands with government should not be done for "light and transient causes" and that some evils must be suffered. Faith in democracy requires some degree of patience and tolerance. It goes on to say that under a "long train of abuses and usurpations" with an apparent design toward despotism, people have a right and duty to dissolve such bands.

A studied and sober reading of the Declaration, coupled with a sincere belief our rights are being violated, may constitute just cause to dissolve our government and appoint new guardians of liberty. In contrast, leftist revolutionaries appointed themselves the new despots.

I believe the current structure of our government is not so broken that it cannot repair the damage which has been done. The recent elections show that when a government with effectively unbridled control o'ersteps its bounds, our democracy is able to reign it in. But I also recognize the constant erosion of our rights, like the Colorado River digging the Grand Canyon.

It would be fairly easy to draft a new Declaration of Independence which is no less a compelling description of the gradual usurpation of our rights with an intentional design.

Nick Rowe said...

The well regulated clause of the 2nd Amendment is prefatory, commonly used to give the purpose or necessity.

Whatever you think "well regulated" means, it cannot negate the latter, effective clause.

"Keep" means to retain possession of.

"Bear" means to carry on one's person.

"Well regulated" cannot defeat the purpose of the right, namely to ensure the security of the State from the Federal government.

To believe another interpretation is to say that in 1791, our states ratified 9 sets of the most sacred rights of mankind and packaged them with a useless statement that "you can't take arms away from soldiers."

When the 2nd Amendment was passed, the STATES were the preeminent protectors of liberty. Almost all states had Bills of Rights which unequivocally guaranteed an individual right to bear arms.

The 9th Amendment makes it clear that the Bill of Rights does not list all our rights. The right to self-defense is an inalienable right.

Some of our Founders opposed the Bill of Rights, not because they didn't believe in it, but because they NEVER wanted anyone to think that the Constitution confers rights. Some people have already forgotten this.

When the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they pronounced on their own accord that the presiding government had become so oppressive that dissolving bands with it was necessary. Their Declaration was considered an act of treason and insurrection.

I do not defend the view that our present government is so oppressive it needs to be overthrown by force. However, people throughout the world and throughout history have taken it upon themselves to do just that. Unlike leftist revolutionaries, our Founders were not evil men, replacing one repressive government with another.

The Declaration of Independence states that dissolving the bands with government should not be done for "light and transient causes" and that some evils must be suffered. Faith in democracy requires some degree of patience and tolerance. It goes on to say that under a "long train of abuses and usurpations" with an apparent design toward despotism, people have a right and duty to dissolve such bands.

A studied and sober reading of the Declaration, coupled with a sincere belief our rights are being violated, may constitute just cause to dissolve our government and appoint new guardians of liberty. In contrast, leftist revolutionaries appointed themselves the new despots.

I believe the current structure of our government is not so broken that it cannot repair the damage which has been done. The recent elections show that when a government with effectively unbridled control o'ersteps its bounds, our democracy is able to reign it in. But I also recognize the constant erosion of our rights, like the Colorado River digging the Grand Canyon.

It would be fairly easy to draft a new Declaration of Independence which is no less a compelling description of the gradual usurpation of our rights with an intentional design.

Dr Ralph said...

Nick - house, wife and kids own *me.*

;)

Nick Rowe said...

I hear you bro'.