Another Look at the Wording of the Second Amendment By Robert Greenslade - Price of Liberty
Another Look at the Wording of the Second Amendment
By Robert Greenslade and Claude Ellsworth © Nitwit Press

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March 13, 2006

As shown in "The Second Amendment and the Preamble to the Bill of Rights," the wording of the Second Amendment is easily understood if it is read through the preamble to the Bill of Rights. In this article, the authors decided to approach the Second Amendment debate from a different angle and examine the wording of the Amendment without resorting to the preamble.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence claims the only purpose of the Second Amendment was "to limit the ability of Congress to interfere with the states' right to keep and maintain armed militias." If this statement was an accurate description of the intent of the Founders, then the Amendment would have been worded as follows:

"Article II. A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the States to maintain Armed Militias shall not be infringed."

If the purpose of the Second Amendment was "to limit the ability of Congress to interfere with the states' right to keep and maintain armed militias," then why mention the people in an Amendment that applies to the States? Not only would that have been confusing and misleading, but unnecessary as well.

Apparently, this organization believes "the right of the people to keep and bear arms," as used in the Second Amendment, actually means "the states' right to keep and maintain armed militias." It appears from this statement that George Orwell's newspeak is the lexicon of choice for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

Another problem with their statement is the assertion that States have "rights." This infers that the States get these so-called "rights" from the Constitution, the Amendments, or the federal government. Contrary to this innuendo, the States exist independent of the Constitution or the federal government. They do not acquire any rights or derive any powers from the Constitution. If the above statement was correct, then it would be the only place in the Constitution, or the Amendments, where the Founders attempted to protect the so-called "rights" of the States from the federal government.

In reality, the several States do not have rights, as the term is commonly understood, they have powers. When they entered into the Union with their fellow States, they delegated, not surrendered, a portion of their sovereign powers to their agent, the federal government. Every power not delegated is known as a "reserved" power. The power to disarm or interfere with the State militias was not one of the powers delegated to the federal government. Thus, the power of the States to maintain armed militias has never been surrendered to the federal government. Therefore, the above interpretation of the Second Amendment has no constitutional basis in fact because the power to maintain armed militias was one of the powers reserved by the States when they adopted the Constitution.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, in their zeal to redefine the words used in the Second Amendment through a linguistic slight of hand, has lost sight of a very important fact. When the States ratified the Constitution, seven States ratified the document with a stipulation that their delegates in Congress push for amendments to the Constitution. Although only two of these States specifically requested a bill of rights, all seven requested an amendment that would reserve, to the States, every "power" not delegated to the federal government. The proposed amendments would reserve "powers," not rights. These proposals would lead to the adoption of the Tenth Amendment. Since the States did not surrender the power to maintain armed militias, the Tenth Amendment, in the words of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, "limited the ability of Congress to interfere with the states' right to keep and maintain armed militias." Thus, the comprehensive reservation of state power through the Tenth Amendment made any so-called "States' right militia amendment" totally unnecessary.

The above statement by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence can also be disproved through a linguistic analysis of the Second Amendment. In the authors' opinion, the modern confusion concerning the wording of the Amendment can be traced to what appears as irregular language in the first part of the Amendment. From a grammatical standpoint, the Amendment has two components. It contains a dependent clause and an independent clause. A dependent clause is a subordinate clause while an independent clause is the main clause. This triggers a question concerning the structure of the Amendment: does a State militia depend on the existence of the right of the people to keep and bear arms or does the right to keep and bears clause depend on the existence of a State militia? The Second Amendment reads as follows:

"Article II. 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."

Standing alone, "[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State," is an incomplete thought. By itself, it does not express an idea and needs additional information to give it meaning. This part of the Amendment is the dependent or subordinate clause. Thus, the militia clause depends on the existence of the right of the people to keep and bears arms.

In the alternative, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed," standing alone, is a complete thought. This part of the Amendment is the independent or main clause. By itself, it does express an idea and does not need any qualifying information to give it meaning. Thus, the right of the people to keep and bear arms does not depend on the existence of a State militia.

There is another way to make the Amendment easier to understand without changing its meaning. If the word "being" with replaced with "is" and the word "because" added to the beginning of the sentence, the Amendment would read as follows:

"Article II. 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."

In grammar, the word "because" can be used at the beginning of a sentence to introduce a dependent clause. As shown above, the first part of the Amendment is a dependent clause. Therefore, it is, and would have been acceptable to use the word "because" at the beginning of the Amendment. The word "being" means to exist. (It exists therefore it "is") This change maintains the intent and sentence structure of the Amendment but makes it read in a manner that is more in tune with modern sentence structure.

Opponents of the individual right are attempting invert the sentence structure of the Second Amendment and make the militia clause the independent or main clause. This explains their assertion that the right to keep and bear arms is a "collective right" that pertains to the State militias. Organizations like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence are attempting to make the right of the people to keep and bear arms dependent on the existence of a State militia. Since the States had the power, not the right, to maintain armed militias prior to the adoption of the Second Amendment, and that power was not surrendered to the federal government, the assertion that the purpose of the Amendment was "to limit the ability of Congress to interfere with the states' right to keep and maintain armed militias" has no constitutional basis in fact.

Irrespective of how organizations like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence attempt to pervert the original intent of the Second Amendment, the system of limited government established by the Constitution and sentence structure of the Amendment negates their militia interpretation.

Robert Greenslade focuses his writing on issues surrounding the federal government and the Constitution. He believes politicians at the federal level, through ignorance or design, are systematically dismantling the Constitution in an effort to expand their power and consolidate control over the American people. He has dedicated himself to resurrecting the true intent of the Constitution in the hope that the information will contribute, in some small way, to restoring the system of limited government established by the Constitution.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Constitution, take a look at this book. I use it in many of my articles and it is the best book I've found on this subject. Bob

The Federal Government: Its True Nature and Character: Being a Review of Judge Story's Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States.

Reprint of the 1868 edition. ''Perhaps the ablest analysis of the nature and character of the federal government that has ever been published. It has remained unanswered.'' This review of Judge Story's Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States is perhaps the ablest analysis of the nature and character of the Federal Government that has ever been published. It has remained unanswered. Indeed, we are not aware that any attempt has been made to challenge the soundness of its reasoning. The great vise of Judge Story and the Federalists consisted in desiring the clothe the federal government with almost monarchical power, whereas the States had carefully and resolutely reserved the great mass of political power for themselves. The powers which they delegated to the federal government were few, and were general in their character. Those which they reserved embraced their original and inalienable sovereignty, which no state imagined it was surrendering when it adopted the constitution. Mr. Madison dwelt with great force upon the fact that ''a delegated is not a surrendered power.'' The states surrendered no powers to the federal government -- they only delegated them. 160 pages.

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