The Second Amendment to The U.S. Constitution in The Bill of Rights states: “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 U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will hear the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago, which challenges a Chicago law banning handguns and requiring the annual taxation of firearms. Those who brought the case assert that a citizen has a right to “keep and bear Arms” without government interference.
The Second Amendment has been misunderstood because of its three commas ever since its adoption by the states in 1791. Certainly, the men who wrote the amendment and fought for its adoption were men who were properly educated in punctuation and the various grammatical constructs of the English language. They understood the correct usage of commas to purposely isolate a clause or to otherwise reorder a sentence’s clauses to achieve an effect, and they used that mastery deliberately. In having and exercising that sophistication, they also were men who would agree that a complicated and confusing sentence could be made uncomplicated and clearly stated by simply reordering the clauses to indisputably form the sentence’s root sentence — that straightforward plain sentence which reduces the need for commas to an essential bare minimum if it does not eliminate all commas altogether.
There are four clauses in the Second Amendment and three commas. To aid the forming of the root sentence, number the amendment’s as-is clauses 1, 2, 3, and 4. Because of the existing commas, clause 2 cannot follow clause 1, clause 3 cannot follow clause 2, and clause 4 cannot follow clause 3 in the root sentence. Clause 4 is the only predicate/verb clause of the four clauses, so the root sentence’s subject/noun clause must be clause 1. A clearly stated root sentence must lead with its subject/noun clause immediately followed by its predicate/verb clause. Therefore, the clauses for the Second Amendment’s root sentence must read 1, 4, 3, and 2, with the “3, 2” pairing giving added definition and clarification to the “1, 4” pairing, which justifies the remaining comma punctuation.
Correctly reordering the clauses of the Second Amendment to eliminate unnecessary commas results in this: A well regulated Militia shall not be infringed, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms being necessary to the security of a free State.
What does this mean? Plainly, it means that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is not a Constitutional right except insofar as it serves the needs of “a well regulated Militia,” which means not at all as long as the government is able to maintain an adequately stocked and well distributed armory to guarantee “the security of a free State.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “militia” as: “a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency.” In the United States today, the militia is the National Guard.
Furthermore, the use of capital letters in the words Militia, Arms, and State is telling. According to the Handbook of Style in Webster’s Dictionary: “Capitals are used for two broad purposes in English: they mark a beginning (as of a sentence) and they signal a proper noun or adjective. … 7. The names of persons and places, of organizations and their members, of congresses and councils, and of historical periods and events are capitalized. 8. The names of ships, aircraft, and spacecraft are capitalized. …” Therefore, very specifically, the Second Amendment’s use of capitalization is referencing Militia, Arms, and State as those terms define U.S. government-controlled military groups, weaponry, and geography and its political governance.
The only conclusion that can be drawn then is this: The private ownership of guns and ammunition is not a right that is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Certainly, federal, state, and local governments are fully within their Constitutional rights to regulate and control the sale and ownership of “Arms,” including any type of gun and its ammunition — even to the point of banning guns of any and all sorts. This is not a matter of honoring misguided legal precedents that have now spanned more than 215 years. Instead, it is a matter of honoring the English language and its rules of punctuation and grammar.
“A well regulated Militia shall not be infringed, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms being necessary to the security of a free State.” Believe it!
Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009