A Grammar Lesson

By Patrick F. Cannon

I’m inclined to think that no citizen of this great republic needs to own a military-type assault rifle. Most of my fellow citizens agree with me. But there is a minority, most of whom are just as appalled at mass murder as the rest of us, who think that any limitation on gun ownership is counter to the Second Amendment to our Constitution.

            If you read the Bill of Rights, which I do from time to time, you can’t help but be impressed by the simplicity and  clarity of its language. Let’s take the famous First Amendment as an example: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Notice that there is a semi-colon after the freedom of religion clause. To me, that means that the framers saw all these freedoms as related, but that freedom of religion was distinct enough from the others to merit a semi-colon instead of a comma.

            Let’s now look at the Second Amendment, which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Now, the founders could have proposed an amendment that read simply: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” But they didn’t, and because there are only commas separating the clauses, it’s clear that they saw a direct relationship between the militia and its arming. (By the way, “arms” in those days didn’t just include firearms, but swords, lances and similar weapons.)

            There are many legitimate reasons why one would own a firearm – hunting, target shooting, and personal protection, among them. But we have long outgrown the concept of the “militia” as was understood in 1787. It has been replaced by the National Guard system, which is a partnership between the Federal and state governments. While a governor may be the titular commander-in-chief of his state’s National Guard, its organization and arming are under Federal control. No  member of these units provides his or her own weapon, just as they don’t provide their own fighter planes, tanks or howitzers (are these “arms” also protected under the Second Amendment?).

            I think it’s interesting that the judges and other folks who prattle on about “original intent” are so willing to ignore it in this case. But then many of our politicians and judges see the Constitution more as a suggestion than the basis for our government. I suppose that’s why so many of them think we’re a Christian nation, and consider the Bible our real Constitution.

Copyright 2023,  Patrick F. Cannon    

5 thoughts on “A Grammar Lesson

  1. Given the state of progressive education, people have enough trouble getting their heads around the concept of a Constitution, let alone the difference between commas and semi-colons. Who cares what it says? It’s a pain in the butt, a semi-colonoscopy!

    If only we could get the right people on the Supreme Court to interpret the law the way we want it! As it is, those som-bitch Papists are disproportionately represented. We need more wise Latinas like Sandy Cortez or really smart people like Kamala Harris to set things straight.

    “A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” As I read this, the emphasis of the sentence is not on “Militia” but on “security of a free state.” In 1787, such militias were formal organizations (hence capitalization). They have long gone out of existence. But the idea of armed citizens coming together to defend their freedom has not.

    I seriously doubt how realistic such a defense would be today. People rely on local police, National Guard and armed forces for security, while some hire private companies for the purpose. Lately we’ve seen a serious weakening of those resources, with calls to defund the police and efforts to neuter the armed services. (The Navy recently did one better on Bud Lite.)

    Meanwhile U.S. federal agencies, from the IRS to the Veterans Administration to U.S. Fish and Wildlife to the Department of Agriculture — 73 agencies in all — have been heavily arming themselves. Even the EPA has full-time personnel with firearm and arrest authority. Citizens’ right to bear (and keep) arms may be debatable, but the federal government’s surely isn’t.

    In too many countries, governments rule by force not by the consent of voters. Their citizens have no rights to defend themselves. No question the Founders knew this problem. The Constitution makes reference to a free state’s militia, as a reason for an armed citizenry. But it isn’t phrased, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed for the purpose of a well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free state.” And then there’s that affirmative “shall not be infringed.” That’s strong language, even without a semicolon!

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