45N, 90W: Parsing the Second Amendment: Letting It Say What It Says

I can find nothing in the Second Amendment’s text, history, or underlying rationale that could warrant characterizing it as ‘fundamental’ insofar as it seeks to protect the keeping and bearing of arms for private self-defense purposes.

So wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Sonya Sotomayor, in his dissenting opinion of the McDonald decision overturning the Chicago ban on handgun ownership.  In addition, Justice John Paul Stevens has also written:

The Framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of self-defense…By its terms, the Second Amendment does not apply to the States: read properly, it does not even apply to individuals outside the militia context.

It is obvious from the quotes above that the United States Supreme Court has among its justices at least three (five, when we count Elana Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsberg) who simply ignore inconvenient historical context.  What is frustrating is that many believe that the document in question—the Constitution and its amendments—means what it says and says what it means; however, many who call themselves progressives see this foundational document as a hindrance.  Justice Ginsberg recently advised the Egyptians to look at constitutions of other countries as models for their new edition, stating that the US Constitution was outdated.  (With so many dedicated American friends on the Court, who needs enemies)?

When it comes to the Second Amendment, the version quoted makes quite a bit of difference in what the reader is able to glean from it (and/or make it say).  It also helps to know rules of English grammar and abide by them, but that seems to be a problem for many, including some of our Justices.

Before its ratification by the original thirteen states, a number of amendments were proposed to comprise the Bill of Rights, including numerous suggested amendments related to issues mentioned in our present Second Amendment.  When the Bill of Rights was finally presented, our Second Amendment was originally the Fourth and our First was initially the Third.  The first two were eventually dropped, although one of them many years later became the Twenty-seventh Amendment.  So, the Third became the First and the Third became the Second as we now have it—sort of.

The problem is that there are several versions of the Second Amendment, “each with slight capitalization and punctuation differences.”  Interestingly, the variations are “found in official documents surrounding the adoption of the Bill of Rights.”  The following version was passed by Congress:

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 version authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, and as ratified by the States reads thus:

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 Congressional version is the one which the court used in the McDonald case. The problem with this version, the one that is the official version, is punctuation that makes it difficult to read as a coherent sentence.  In other words, its lack of clarity due to the fragmented combining of ideas from many of the Second’s predecessor amendments makes it an ideal candidate to be twisted and turned to fit an agenda not in keeping with its historical background.  The Congressional version does make it easy to separate it into parts that fit the progressive agenda.

For example, the commas following “Militia” and “Arms” seem to follow the old “take-a-breath-rule.”  The problem with this rule is that it creates sentence fragments.  If you paid attention to grammar instruction in grade school, you’ll remember that a sentence fragment is not a complete thought; it needs help to complete its thought.  In other words, it needs a helping statement that turns it into a complete thought—something that arrives at point A because of B.

The congressional version also uses what are called “comma splices.”  Comma splices are a way to ignore connecting words (conjunctions), thereby creating sentence fragments.  So, the Congressional version might have been “cleaned up” this way: Because a well regulated Militia [ is ] necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.  This now reads very much like the Jefferson version and emphasizes what the Jefferson version says, if the reader will accept and obey rules of English grammar.

And that is exactly what the Jefferson version, which the states ratified, forces us to do, if we are honest.  The first part, A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, is called a dependent clause.  A clause is a group of words that says something.  However, a dependent clause needs help in order for its thought to be complete.  So, the question becomes, how is a well regulated militia able to become the militia?  The second part of the sentence gives us the answer.

The second part, called an independent clause, is a sentence all by itself, and therefore the dependent clause, the first part, receives meaning by being connected to the independent clause.  The militia, therefore, is the people who have the right to keep and bear arms.  Also, if the dependent clause were not there, the second part, the independent clause, would still be a complete sentence that means what it says: The right of the people to keep and bear arms cannot be infringed.

Much more can be said about parsing according to the subjective rules of the left, but for now this is ‘heavy’ enough.  The following sentence diagram is a grammatical map that breaks down the parts of the sentence, leading to one conclusion: It’s a right of the people.

The 40N, 90W Group is a coalition of conservative, gun-owning Northern Wisconsin clergymen of various backgrounds who believe in the veracity of the Constitution and are dedicated to preserving the individual right to keep and bear arms by disseminating the historical context of the Second Amendment.  In the same way, we whole-heartedly agree that the Bible is in its entirety God’s Word centering on Jesus Christ, the One Who was born to die for the sins of the world, and not something to be parsed to agree with the agenda of the world.