Does A Comma Stand Between You And Loss Of Your Guns?

BY Herschel Smith
11 months ago

Business Insider:

A recent poll suggests Americans will consider the gun debate a pivotal point in the 2014 elections. So we wanted to explore how Americans kept the right to bear arms in the first place. As it turns out, grammar is the culprit.

Take a look at the Second Amendment:

“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.”

That little, red comma caused the Supreme Court to strike down D.C.’s ban on handguns, the country’s strictest gun control law to date.

Before the Supreme Court heard the case, the D.C. circuit court of appeals nixed the ban, too. “According to the court, the second comma divides the amendment into two clauses: one ‘prefatory’ and the other ‘operative.’ On this reading, the bit about a well-regulated militia is just preliminary throat clearing; the framers don’t really get down to business until they start talking about ‘the right of the people … shall not be infringed,’” The New York Times reported.

Gun control proponents argue the founders used commas more frequently than common English today, Ross Guberman wrote in his legal writing blog. Some historians even claim that many states ratified a version of the Second Amendment with only two commas, not three. The extra commas don’t mean much in that context, the argument goes.

Straining at a literary gnat to swallow a camel.  This is what happens with you superimpose literary criticism over the inherent rights of mankind.  The title of the commentary is telling: “How a comma gave gave Americans the right to own guns.”

The author, poor Christina, believes that rights are granted by the state, as she was no doubt taught by her college professors.  Nay, Christina.  God gives us rights and you cannot take them away.  Neither can any state – all a state can do is formally recognize what God has granted.

As for the silly argument over commas, let’s hurry the death of this debate by a simple observation.  Rather than turn to grammar to understand how the colonialists thought, recall how they saw weapons in their day.

In the colonies, availability of hunting and need for defense led to armament statues comparable to those of the early Saxon times. In 1623, Virginia forbade its colonists to travel unless they were “well armed”; in 1631 it required colonists to engage in target practice on Sunday and to “bring their peeces to church.” In 1658 it required every householder to have a functioning firearm within his house and in 1673 its laws provided that a citizen who claimed he was too poor to purchase a firearm would have one purchased for him by the government, which would then require him to pay a reasonable price when able to do so. In Massachusetts, the first session of the legislature ordered that not only freemen, but also indentured servants own firearms and in 1644 it imposed a stern 6 shilling fine upon any citizen who was not armed.

Whatever else you might find significant in one comma, two commas or three commas, and whatever else you think the second amendment means, it cannot possibly mean something contrary to the way the colonialists believed and behaved.  And thus it cannot possibly mean that they intended to garrison all weapons in an armory controlled by the state.

Christina needs to do some historical reading, as do most Americans.  A comma cannot take away your God-given rights any more than it can grant them to you.



  • Jim Harris

    I would add that many militia laws of the early states required citizens to supply their own weapons for militia duty, and that such duty was required of males between specified ages. Those who could not comply sometimes received state or local assistance in acquiring the necessary equipment, including firearms. However, at least based on the technical legality, non-compliance COULD get you fined or jailed.

  • http://www.thepriceofliberty.org MamaLiberty

    How does any level of government “provide” a firearm to someone? Only through theft from everyone else. And by what legitimate authority does it do either one?

    It is as ridiculous to “require” people to be armed as it is to attempt to forbid them arms, and no more moral. Those who do not wish to defend themselves and their community would therefore be unable to defend themselves, and would probably be shunned by the community. At least in any rational society. The consequences of their actions would be their own responsibility.

    I want nobody in my home (or my trenches) who is reluctant to bear arms, and has been forced to do so!

  • James Harris

    MamaLiberty: I concur with the moral argument you make; was only adding to the historical commentary made in the original post. The historical summary is that people needed to be, and were often expected to be (legally or otherwise), prepared to defend the community. It is a precedent setting counter-point to those appalled that citizens are armed at all.

    The process of supplying arms in all these cases would be the same as those used to arm law enforcement or the military; and would/could be justified using the same rationale.

    All that said though — I concur with your view that we don’t want some nervous-Nelly (with due respect to the other “Nellys” out there) who, out of fear and ignorance, drops their weapon, runs, and ends up arming the enemy! … or shooting the good guys!! … or forcing a surrender because they think it’s “common sense.” … etc.

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  • DAN III

    “The author, poor Christina, believes that rights are granted by the state, as she was no doubt taught by her college professors. Nay, Christina. God gives us rights and you cannot take them away. Neither can any state – all a state can do is formally recognize what God has granted”.

    The problem with poor Christina is she most likely, does not believe in God.


You are currently reading "Does A Comma Stand Between You And Loss Of Your Guns?", entry #11163 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Guns,Second Amendment and was published August 25th, 2013 by Herschel Smith.

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