Did a Comma Kill Americans? Grammar and the 2nd Amendment.

Let’s try a different approach to the 2nd Amendment.  Instead of historical analysis, let’s do something simple like a basic grammatical breakdown of the sentence.

Here is the language from the Constitution

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.”

A basic approach is to strip out both independent clauses separated by commas thus the sentence would read,

A well-regulated militia shall not be infringed.”

The meaning is unclear, thus the need for the modifying phrases which, one might argue, are subordinate clauses and thus elemental to the meaning. We need to clarify what they modify.

The subject of the sentence is “a well-regulated militia.” Everything else modifies or describes the subject.

The first phrase, “being necessary to the security of a free State,” defines the need for the subject. In different language one might say “To maintain security of a free state, a well-regulated militia is necessary.”

The meaning is the same.

Let’s look at the second phrase separated by a comma. “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” What does this phrase do? What does it change or describe? The next phrase, also separated by a comma, complicates the matter.

One method is to remove the intervening comma separated phrase and see what that reveals. Thus, we have,

A well-regulated militia the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Makes little sense without the missing language.  Let’s put it back and take out the last phrase.

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

Again makes no sense without the ending phrase. Suppose we add it back without the comma?

“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.”

Now it makes sense. The subject of the sentence, “a well-regulated militia,” modified by the phrase “being necessary to the security of a free state,” followed by the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

It’s that last comma that confuses things.

If we write it this way, “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.” The meaning is clear and brings clarity to “a well-regulated militia.”

Richard Henry Lee, one of the leaders of the revolutionary period, is best known for his resolution in the Second Continental Congress where he said,

That these united Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance from the British crown, and that all political connection between America and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved….”

Lee also had said something very interesting about the right to bear 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…” (emphasis author’s)
Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer, 1788

Perhaps, even back then, the men who crafted the right the bear arms knew it came with responsibility and required training, thus the “well-regulated militia” now makes sense.

As with any sentence, breaking it down to its parts clarifies the meaning. The subject of this sentence is “a well-regulated militia” everything else is there to support and describe what makes up this “well-regulated” entity and the right of the people to equip themselves and participate.

“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.”

Could it be a misplaced comma contributed to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans?

Who said grammar doesn’t matter?

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Supermoon: Portal to the Past

There is a newly discovered phenomenon caused by the soon to be visible Super Moon. A window to the past  has opened in the fabric of the universe. This allowed NASA scientists to speak to the Founding Fathers at the original Constitutional Convention.

When asked what they thought of the current condition of The United States of America, these are the exact words from these great men.

“Are you f#%^*ing kidding me?”  The words were difficult to hear over the sobbing and self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Whether it was a celebration of the Second Amendment or despair was unclear.

The portal was forced closed by Jefferson and Franklin then sealed on that end. They left a message for us to take their name off the country.

Gun Control: A Time to Rethink the Realities

I struggle with the idea of gun control.  Over time, my ideas have gone from embracing the idea that anyone should be able to own a firearm, as long as they comply with the law, to questioning the need for anyone to possess a weapon with the exception of the Police and Military.

I argued that there are practical problems with imposing serious gun control in this country.  Best estimates show there are 114 million handguns in private hands.  To create a program to remove them lawfully from private ownership has nightmarish legal and practical implications.

There are issues with overcoming the constitutional arguments.  I have revisited the arguments of the second amendment. I see a clear distinction in the common interpretation between its original intent and today’s modern era.

As with all aspects of the Constitution, adapting to a changing world is both necessary and reasonable

In light of the clear and undeniable problem of gun violence in this country, a new approach to gun control is long overdue.  The numbers for 2010 were 18,000 deaths and 33000 injuries from firearms.  Homicide rates in urban areas are 12.1 per 100000.

Some other interesting information; (various on-line sources)

The U.S.A. is ranked third out of 45 developed nations in regards to the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm. Mexico and Estonia are ranked first and second.

In 2009 United Nations statistics record 3.0 intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants; for comparison, the figure for Mexico, where handguns are prohibited was 10 per 100,000, the figure for the United Kingdom, where handguns are prohibited was 0.07 per 100,000, about 40 times lower, and for Germany 0.2.

Gun homicides in Switzerland however are similarly low, at 0.52 in 2010 even though they rank third in the world for highest number of guns per citizen.

Perhaps we can learn something from the Swiss.

So, what are the arguments for allowing private ownership of guns?  Here are the two most commonly cited, the second amendment and protection against a tyrannical government.

“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.”

Written at a time when the United States did not keep a standing army, citizens were called to duty when needed.  The benefit of having citizens maintaining and possessing firearms was clear.  The use of a firearm in daily survival, hunting for example, was common.  It was a different time.

Hunting is a hobby now, not a necessity. However, keep in mind, I am talking about handguns and, perhaps, high-capacity military type weapons.

Protection from tyranny.

Proponents of gun ownership often cite Hitler’s Germany outlawing private ownership of weapons as an example.  There is no evidence that the lack of private ownership of firearms by the German people contributed to the rise of the National Socialists in Germany.  The reasons behind that rise to power were infinitely more complex; handguns in every German home would not have altered anything.

This tyranny argument fails on two counts, one philosophical and one practical.  On the philosophical side, the idea that any American government could direct the military to attack the general population is ludicrous.

The men and women who serve do so because of the American people, not despite them.  I know no one who ever served in the military that would follow an order to attack American civilians.

Isolated incidents notwithstanding, the idea of a wholesale attack by the US military on Americans is insane. It makes for an entertaining movie theme, not reality.

Now the practical side of this argument.  Assuming for the sake of discussion that the President somehow convinced the military to attack civilians in a coordinated way, using the full power of the military, the “second amendment” advocates would not stand a chance.

A fully orchestrated attack by the 1st Marine Division, supported by aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery would utterly overwhelm a bunch of yahoos clinging to their precious weapons whose idea of training is drinking beer and shooting targets bearing the image of a politician they despise.

The idea that a citizen army could withstand such an attack is nonsense.

There is a long history of well-established civilian control over the military because the military is comprised of citizens. While one always needs to pay attention, I think a bigger threat to our freedom comes from Congress and not the Pentagon.

It really boils down to this, does the tradition of private ownership of firearms outweigh the real risk to our society.  We have a failing war on drugs because we thought we could arrest our way out of a health issue.  One that, while tragic, takes far fewer lives than handguns. Yet we seem to ignore the bigger threat of these weapons.

It is time for serious reconsideration of eliminating handguns, and perhaps non-hunting weapons, from private ownership and imposing strict control over their use by Law Enforcement.

Maybe it requires a discussion on the reasons behind our violent tendencies that are exacerbated by the easy availability of weapons.

I don’t know the answer, but ignoring the problem is not it.

A country that once said they would put a man on the moon, and did it, is most assuredly capable of finding a way to eliminate the very real threat these weapons pose to people.