When it comes to “linguistic gymnastics” there are few better examples than the 2A Debate. What does the 2nd Amendment say and what does it mean? A good place to start is this 2nd Amendment Explained poster in the Cold Dead Hands Store:
While that is a good shorthand explanation, some of the more ardent opposition to the 2nd Amendment may require a bit more detail. For example, “a well regulated militia” is not, I repeat IS NOT, a government regulated professional military.
2A: Well Regulated Militia
I’ll break it down for you…”Well Regulated,” as it was used when the 2A was written, meant nothing more than “in proper working order.” As in a “well regulated” clock keeping accurate time. Furthermore, at the time of its writing, America had just declared independence from a tyrannical ruler, due in part to burdensome taxation and oppressive regulation. The idea that the right to arms, which made it possible to achieve that independence, should be regulated by any new government is absurd on its face.
“Militia” was repeatedly defined by the Founders and Framers as being “the whole of the people.” James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights said a “militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.” Those three words, “well regulated militia” are at the very heart of the debate. Twisted to the point of being unrecognizable by those who wish to give government the power to disarm.However, just a brief look at the actual history makes the meaning crystal clear. A look at history also makes clear that “standing armies” or a full time professional military organization was looked down upon by the Founders and Framers. So, the argument that militia is military also falls flat under scrutiny.
They viewed the right to arms as a universal right, a birthright. As stated by Tench Coxe, on multiple occasions:
“Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…. [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”Tench Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
“As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.”Tench Coxe, ‘Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution’ under the Pseudonym ‘A Pennsylvanian.’ Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789
A better way to understand the 2nd Amendment is change the order of it: The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, as it is necessary to the security of a free state that a militia of armed citizens, trained in the use of those arms, be ever at the ready.
Things Change, But 2A Doesn’t
Now, obviously some things have changed over time, we did adopt “standing armies” of sorts, though they must still be reauthorized and funded every two years. See NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act. Yet we still have the means to “call up the militia” in the form of Selective Service and the draft. It was intended that such a call be answered by a citizenry already armed and trained in the use of every “terrible implement of the soldier.” The purpose being to limit the time and expense of training and equipping people in a time of eminent conflict.
The fact that we have allowed government to grow, bloat, to the point where massive armies and stockpiles of weapons are already in place, DOES NOT diminish the constitutionally protected “birthright” of the people to keep and bear arms. In fact, it makes it all that much more necessary. To defend against all threats, foreign AND DOMESTIC. One of the other duties of the militia, the armed population, was to put down domestic insurrections and rebellions internally. As well as, if need be, to remove and replace the government they were creating… “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
“when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”Declaration of Independence
But, But, But…. Hunting
You’ll notice that not a word has been spoken about hunting or self defense. Those are merely fringe benefits of a citizenry empowered to defend itself against the greater threats of invasion, war and tyranny. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms…” Keep and bear are simply other words for own and carry. The people, as in other parts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights refers to ALL of the people. Not certain people, not a certain class of people, not even people a questionable background, but ALL OF THE PEOPLE.
Yes, I know… But slavery… But women… But, here’s what you need to understand. The Framers didn’t write “all white men,” they wrote “the people.” The issue is not with the words, but with the failure of society to live up to the words. Something we have worked, and fought, to correct over the last couple centuries. Though we still try to divide ourselves by race, gender, party affiliation, etc… The Constitution and Bill of Rights does not. We The People… the right of the people… ALL PEOPLE. Period. We simply need to see each other as people, rather than labels, and we may finally understand and live up to those wise words.
2A: Arms, Shall Not Be Infringed
What exactly are “arms”? Well, the dictionary definition is “weapons and ammunition, armaments.” What are “armaments” you ask? Again, the dictionary says, “MILITARY weapons and equipment.” So, as Tench Coxes so eloquently stated, the right to keep and bear arms INCLUDES “military grade” weapons and “every other terrible implement of the soldier.” Well, well, well… so much for that absurd “assault weapons” and “military grade weapons” argument, which was totally asinine from the start. The Founders and Framers had literally just defeated the superpower of their time using PRIVATELY OWNED military equivalent firearms, cannons and warships. So, your argument is invalid.
Finally, “shall not be infringed” which seems to be the most clear statement you could make, but… some seem to think that leaves room for “common sense regulations.” It does not. What does “infringe” mean? To actively break the terms of (a law, agreement, etc.) or act so as to limit or undermine (something); encroach on. So, the government, at any level, shall not contravene, violate, transgress, break, breach, ride roughshod over, disregard, ignore, neglect, infract or limit the right of the people (all people) to keep (own) and bear (carry) arms (weapons, ammunition, armaments, military weapons and equipment).
Is that clear enough for you?