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.
OK, so let’s read it and discuss the key words and phrases here.
well regulated – Properly disciplined, well trained, in good order.
Lots of anti-gun people like to insist that this means that the Government is allowed to regulate this right, and the regulation (laws) is part of this requirement. I have no clue where they get this perception as the Bill of Rights and the Constitution pretty much are used to reserve rights for the citizens of the US.
The Random House College Dictionary (1980) gives four definitions for the word “regulate,” which were all in use during the Colonial period and one more definition dating from 1690 (Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1989). They are:
1) To control or direct by a rule, principle, method, etc.
2) To adjust to some standard or requirement as for amount, degree, etc.
3) To adjust so as to ensure accuracy of operation.
4) To put in good order.
b. Of troops: Properly disciplined. Obs. rare-1.
1690 Lond. Gaz. No. 2568/3 We hear likewise that the French are in a great Allarm in Dauphine and Bresse, not having at present 1500 Men of regulated Troops on that side.
militia – a body of citizens (no longer exclusively male) eligible for service where full time duty is required only in emergencies. The term also refers to the eligible pool of citizens callable into military service.
The anti-gun groups out there like to say that this is like the National Guard. However, most people don’t seem to understand that the National Guard can be, and often is, Federalized, and even when not federalized, it is under control of the State Government. When federalized, the National Guard become part of the regular army and can be deployed at the discretion of the US Government.
Even the US Code clearly states that the Militia includes a “organized” militia and the “unorganized” militia.
10 U.S. Code § 311 – Militia
US Code – Militia: composition and classes
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
There really doesn’t seem to be much dispute about the rest of the wording, but there is an issue around the clauses.
the comma – There are three different commas here, but it is the last one that causes some dissent.
Anti-gun proponents argue that the last comma is intentional and was intended to make militia the subject of the sentence. Accordingly, they look at the sentence as basically being:
“[a] well regulated Militia … shall not be infringed.”
However, based on the Federalist papers and the actual votes and proposals for the wording, the operative words of the sentence are as follows:
“the right of the people to … bear arms … shall not be infringed.”
Using this sentence, it is clear that there is a personal right of the people to own firearms. Reviewing the History, the Federalist Papers, and the Indeed, the historical backdrop—highlighted by a general disdain for professional armies—would seem to support this theory.
The History of the 2nd
Sam Adams provided the first draft:
And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.
The draft provided in the first session of the first Congress:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
Amended version brought forth by the select committee on the Bill of Rights:
A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms.
- Draft version of the Second Amendment sent by the House of Representatives to the United States Senate:
A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
Note: When the Amendment was transcribed, the semicolon in the religious exemption portion was changed to a comma by the Senate scribe.
- Revision voted on in the U.S. Senate:
A well regulated militia, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed
- Final version passed by the U.S. Senate; the phrase “necessary to” was added when the proposed Amendment was entered into the U.S. House journal.
A well regulated militia being the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Of course, sometimes it takes some good comedians to explain it best, so let’s leave it to Penn and Teller.
Basically, when you do the research, it is pretty clear what the intention was of our Founding Fathers. Their intention did not include:
- Government regulating our rights as reserved by the Constitution
- The National Guard as a militia
If I were to translate the amendment into current English, it would probably look something like this:
Because we need a well trained militia to ensure the security of a free state, free citizens must have the right to keep and bear arms.