12 months ago
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.