2nd Amendment was about the militia

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There are a few fallacies, invented by progressives in the 30’s and 60’s to try to enact gun control and pervert what the Constitution and 2nd Amendment means. When the left can't win the argument based on the logic and facts, they try to reframe it and change the meanings of words. So the constitution was part of a “living document” delusion, that you can change meanings by make-believe, without following the actual letter/intent of law. They prey on the ignorance of their base, and the lack of understanding in English, History, and the Constitution, to pretend that the 2nd doesn’t mean exactly what it meant for the first 200 years, and suddenly 150-200 years later, they found secrets that no other historians have ever found a scrap of evidence of  :

  • Well Regulated: they re-define the original meaning (in working order) to mean government controlled — it doesn’t.
  • Militia: they try to re-interpret to mean National Guard/Reserves, which was created over 100 years later.
  • Dependent clause reversal: they misinterpret English to assume that your right/liberty is dependent on being in the militia, instead of the truth that you have the right, so that you can be part of a militia (and that it is an obligation to own a gun, and do your duty).
  • the People”, which means “individuals” everywhere else in the Bill of Rights, is reinvented to mean “collective / state”.

But all those were not only not recognized for the first 150+ years, but they’re been completely refuted by Linguists, Historians, Legal Scholars, and common sense. Gun control laws can be argued and debated, but there is no real doubt as to what the Second Amendment meant. And those who repeat a false claim they heard once, are just being foolish (not researching because it fits their confirmation bias). Anyone that’s looked knows how discredited those theories are. Those who repeat them after knowing that (or deny it), are just liars.

I've heard many people try to distort the 2nd Amendment so that, "guns should only apply to those who are in the militia” or that it’s a people (plural) right and not an individual right, or other linguistic gymnastics, to proclaim that the 2nd doesn’t mean what English Scholars, Legal and Constitutional scholars, and the authors (in their own writings) intended.

What does militia mean?

Militia.png
Words change meaning over time. The militia means what it meant at the founding, not what the word evolved to mean today.

At the time of the writing, the definition of militia was, "The whole body of civilians, that are NOT part of the regular army”. Since the Guard/Reserves are part of the regular army (or reserves), they are the unorganized militia (which was everyone else). Basically, anyone old enough to defend their home, town or country (that was not in the army already) was the militia.

But even today, the meaning hasn’t changed as much as some think. Some people mistakenly think it means reserves or National Guard (established 1903, and subject to federal control) — but since those didn’t exist at the time of authoring, there is no way it could have been the type of body envisioned by the framers. Today’s legal definition is, the "militia" consists of "all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age”, with a few exclusions for medical, mental or job deferments (by their choice) (10 U.S.C. 311 and 32 U.S.C. 313).

You don’t have to take my word for it, there are multiple Constitutional rulings and the words of the authors listed below

Is the 2nd dependent on being in the militia?

Another common wrong-headed argument is that "you’d have to be in the militia to qualify for the 2nd’s protections".

But they’re failing at English and what many English scholars have said about that argument. The "well regulated militia" phrase is an "nominative absolute” phrase which can be ignored. It is merely explanatory (descriptive) and dependent on the rest of the sentence (not the rest of the sentence is a dependent clause on it). Since you ignore nominative/descriptive clauses, the 2nd can be read, "The right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.”

I like to offer the following example to demonstrate it to those being resistant:

A well-schooled electorate, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be infringed.

~ 1st Amendment written as the 2nd Amendment

No one would read THAT as you have to be a well-schooled electorate in order to keep and read books. The right to keep and read books must not be infringed, so we can all participate in a well schooled electorate.

"Shall not be infringed" is not the type of wording one puts in, when something is conditionally dependent on something else.


Is the 2nd a collective (not individual) right

A recent distraction is, "before the NRA got to it, the 2nd Amendment wasn’t an individual right".

This is a refinement of the previous militia argument. That somehow this a right of the people (plural: meaning the collective), and thus not of individuals, thus the people can regulate it away. (The milia is "us", so "we" can say that "you’re" not the militia as an individual, and thus you don’t need your gun). However, six relevant Supreme Court decisions have recognized that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms, not a collective one.

The problem is pesky history: the reason the bill of rights was created is because in the ratification of the Constitution there was fighting over the wording of the enumerated rights of individuals. So they agreed to ratify the constitution AND get the bill of rights to enumerate what the individual rights were. So the whole reason why the Bill of Rights (including the 2nd) was written was to protect the individuals rights from the government. The Framers understood the concept of a "right" to apply ONLY to individuals.

There was never any discussion about collective rights, there has never been any historical, legal or linguistically evidence that they were written to mean: “all these are individuals rights, except for the 2nd”. And if you claim that the Bill of Rights are not individual rights, then your right to free speech, protections from illegal search and seizure, are also dependent on the public whims of the collective. So while it’s popular to try to teach the "collective rights” fallacy in Colleges and places of lower learning, no Supreme Court decision has ever held a right to be “a collective right”. And you don’t have to take my word for it, there are multiple quotes, legal (Supreme Court) rulings, and the words of the authors and experts:

Ratification

The wording in the state ratification conventions (for the Constitution) fought to declare the 2nd Amendment even more explicitly:

  • New Hampshire wanted it to read, "Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion."
  • Massachusetts wanted to read, "be never construed...to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable, from keeping their own arms.”
  • Pennsylvania wanted the Constitution to state, "that the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own State, or the United States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals."

None of the states were looking to water it down, or clarify that it only applied to Militia's. (In fact, adding Militia clause was meant to strengthen it, in stated that it applied to more than just hunting and explicitly to defense against governments).

Quotes

"In recent years it has been suggested that the Second Amendment protects the ‘collective' right of states to maintain militias, while it does not protect the right of ‘the people’ to keep and bear arms. If anyone entertained this notion in the period during which the Constitution and Bill of Rights were debated and ratified, it remains one of the most closely guarded secrets of the 18th century, for no known writing surviving from the period between 1787 and 1791 states such a thesis"

~ Stephen P. Halbrook

That Every Man Be Armed (1984)

"...It is always dangerous to the liberties of the people to have an army stationed among them, over which they have no control...The Militia is composed of free Citizens. There is therefore no Danger of their making use of their power to the destruction of their own Rights, or suffering others to invade them.”

~ Samuel Adams

"The whole of the Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals... It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of.”

~ Albert Gallatin

NY Historical Society, October 7, 1789

Supporting Opinions

The [2nd Amendment] may be considered as the true palladium of liberty… The right of self defense is the first law of nature.... Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color of pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction."

~ St. George Tucker

One of the first Judges and Law Professors to ever write a study of the U.S. Constitution believed the 2nd had everything to do with self-defense and not militias (1803) in "View of the Constitution of the United States"

"The term 'the people' as explicitly used in the Second Amendment and elsewhere in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a term chosen by the Founding Fathers to mean all individuals who make up our national community."

~ U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez

(1990)

"The right of a citizen to bear arms, in lawful defense of himself or the State, is absolute. He does not derive it from the State government. It is one of the high powers delegated directly to the citizen, and is excepted out of the general powers of government. A law cannot be passed to infringe upon or impair it, because it is above the law, and independent of the lawmaking power.”

~ John Cockrum v. State

(1859)

the right to keep and bear arms, like rights protected by the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments, is an individual right held by "the people,"

~ Supreme Court: U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez

(1990)

"All citizens capable of bearing arms constitute the reserve militia, and the states cannot prohibit the people from keeping and bearing arms so as to disable the people from performing the (militia) duty to the general government.”

~ Supreme Court: Presser v. Illinois

(1865)

"The right of bearing arms for a lawful purpose is not a right granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.”

~ Supreme Court: U.S. vs Cruikshank

(1876)

The 2nd Amendment, "protects an individual's right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia".

~ Supreme Court: D.C. versus Heller

(2008)

Of thirty-nine law review articles addressed the Supreme Court case law, thirty-five supported the individual right view and only four support the "collective right only” view. Three of these four are co/authored by employees of the antigun lobby.

~ Law Reviews

(1980-)

"The states' rights reading puts great weight on the word ‘militia', but this word appears only in the Amendment's subordinate clause. The ultimate right to keep and bear arms belongs to 'the people' not 'the states.' As the language of the Tenth Amendment shows, these two are of course not identical when the constitution means ‘states', it says so. Thus as noted above, 'the people' at the core of the Second Amendment are the same ‘people' at the heart of the Preamble and the First Amendment, namely citizens.”

~ Akil Amar, Professor of Law, Yale

The Bill of Rights as a Constitution (1990)

The militia is comprised of all able-bodied males, adding that "ordinarily when called these men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of a kind in common (military) use at the time.” Thus all military style weapons (assault weapons) were especially protected under the 2nd Amendment, but it allowed government to regulate Short Barreled Rifles (SBR’s) and sawed-off shotgun because they didn’t have application to the militia..

~ Supreme Court: U.S. v. Miller

(1939) Ironically, a few years later, the military order thousands of short-barrelled rifles, sawed off shotguns and carbines, specifically restricted under Miller, proving that even those restrictions were wrong

What about well regulated?

Well regulated, at the time (and for 100 years afterward) just meant "something being in proper working order”, well calibrated or functioning as expected.

"The words "well-regulated” is used as an adjective, modifying "militia," which is followed by the main clause of the sentence (subject "the right," verb "shall"). The right to keep and bear arms is asserted as essential for maintaining a militia.

~ Prof. Roy Copperud

Journalism Professor at USC. American Heritage Dictionary usage panel. Merriam Webster's cites him as expert.

"the Amendment does not protect “the right of militiamen to keep and bear arms,” but rather “the right of the people.””

~ D.C. Court of Appeals
(Upheld in Heller)

(2007)

If "well regulated" meant "under government control”, then it would no longer be a militia, but the army/navy.

~ Logic

"[t]he adjective 'well-regulated' implies nothing more than the imposition of proper discipline and training.”

~ DC v. Heller

(2008)

But even if we pretend that it did mean “government regulated” (which it doesn't), it would still be irrelevant, because it was part of a nominative/descriptive clauses, and thus whether the people should be able to keep and bear arms so they can choose to be part of a militia or not, doesn’t change that their right to do so, "shall not be infringed".

Civic Responsibility

There’s an even more expansive view, that “well regulated” points to the 2nd being more than just a 19th century usage of the term, "an individual right", but instead is the 18th century usage which means "civic right (civic responsibility)".

This is even worse for gun controllers, because that view means that you not only had a right to bear arms to belong to a militia, but you also have a civic duty as a citizen to do so (almost mandatory service). Which implies that anyone is failing in their responsibilities as Americans to NOT buy guns and become part of a well functioning militia. So the gun-controllers are better off with it being an individual right, than it being a civic one.

However, the invention that "well regulated" might be a back door to inventing new restrictions on the 2nd, wasn’t first heard until the 1960’s. (This was after the first wave of gun control in the 20’s and 30’s had only increased our crimes and shootings). So what this argument is arrogantly proclaiming is that in the 1960's they discovered a word ambiguity that the Founding Fathers, and their progeny, never knew of. Thus for the first ≈200 years of the country, every Historian, Linguist, Legal and Constitutional scholar or mind that had read these things, was too stupid to realize what the 2nd really meant, and thus we should ignore all that common sense and stare decisis (legal precedence, and history), because a few hippie progressives knew more than anyone and everyone else before them. Does anyone really buy that?

Conclusion

Gun controllers may want to revise the Constitution, and fortunately for them, there are ways to do that (like Constitution Referendum, or an Amendment). They’re welcome to try. I’ll resist, and if they succeeded there would be civil war, but at least be honest about it.

If we value the Constitution and rule of law, then we have to respect and defend their intent, not distort them because some wished they meant something else. You can’t be for perverting the law, and then claim they support the rule of law when it suits you. So men of integrity must fight these vapid arguments, because if we allow the perversion of our laws for convenience, then our Constitution and Laws mean nothing (and the liars and bullies win).

"On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

~ Thomas Jefferson

June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p. 322

"How strangely will the tools of a tyrant pervert the plain meaning of words!"

~ Samuel Adams

Gun control laws can be argued and debated, but there is little doubt as to what the Second Amendment meant at the time. The folks that used a poisonous snake as their flag, saying “don’t tread on me”, in the context of fighting a war which was partly about their gun rights, put in a guarantee to that liberty. And no rational person believes their original intent (in that context) was to write something so vague, that a future bureaucrat could lawyer their rights away, or that you could only own guns if you were in the governments militia. This isn’t just my opinion. This has been ruled on by Linguists, Historians, Constitutional Scholars, the Supreme Court (6 times), and by the authors themselves. Thus there’s no intelligent ambiguity on these topics: any fuzziness was only invented in the 1960’s (≈200 years later), by the disingenuous hippies, and only repeated by uninformed gullible rubes. Repeating it once, makes them a fool. Repeating it after being schooled on it, makes them a fraud.

References

Examples of Stupidity

Written 1987, Updated 1997, 2002, 2015, 2017