I’ve said it before: being a Second Amendment supporter is a lot like the movie Ground Hog Day. You – or rather, your opponents, the gun-grabbers – just keep repeating the same memes, over and over again.
Over 25 years of being an activist, if I’ve heard…:
- “The founding fathers couldn’t have foreseen weapons today!”
- “You oppose gun control? So felons should have guns, then?”
- “Gun owners must be compensating for something…”
- “Yes, I know you keep refuting the statistics, but the statistics I have prove that gun control lowers crime!”
Oh, yeah – another one is “it’s impossible for a normal human to tell what the Second Amendment actually means”.
Such is the tack of Linton Weeks, writing in an op-ed space at National Public Radio.
How can something apparently so simple — a 27-word sentence — be so confusing? What is so hard to understand about “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”?
As it turns out, after more than 200 years of intense scrutiny by people more versed in The Law than you and I — and in the face of seemingly endless American gun violence — the meaning of the Second Amendment continues to baffle and elude. In this case, the country’s Founders have left us to founder.
Is it a sweeping constitutional guarantee that individuals have unfettered access to guns, or a practical agreement that allows for citizen armies in times of extraordinary national need?
According to Weeks, the the answer is as imponderable is “what is the nature of God”, or perhaps “how does NPR consider itself unbiased?”. And like all imponderables, one turns to the humanities:
Maybe it would help everyone to think about this complicated dictum in a more slant way, hold it up to the light and look at it from different angles, the way poets approach other tough concepts — such as love, hate and injustice.
A Tone Poem
After all, says U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, poetry has the “ability to help us deal with difficult things.”
Follow the hilarity on your own time.
But Mr. Weeks’ piece is pretty clearly aimed at NPR’s core audience – liberals who consider themselves smarter than average, and are nonetheless low-information voters.
Because the Second Amendment has been analyzed for centuries – and especially for the past couple of decades – by two groups of people who make sense of words: grammarians who work with words, and lawyers, who work with words that are written in the form of laws.
Grammar Got Run Over By Nena Totenberg
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”, is two clauses.
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”, the first clause, makes no sense standing on its own. It’s called a “dependent clause”.
“the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”? That makes sense standing on its own. It’s an “Independent Clause”. The sentence really says “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state”.
Even a tone poet can follow that, right?
It’s Just Like Shakespeare Said
Of course, that leaves two words undefined: “Militia”, and “people”, as in “right of the people”.
Of course, in the First Amendment, there’s no question what a “right of the people” means; it means religion, press, assembly and speech refer only to churches, newspapers, legislatures and broadcasters. Right?
Of course not. “Right of the people” refers to “the people, as individuals”.
But Let’s Cut The Crap
Mr. Weeks’ thesis – that the Second Amendment is an inscrutable bit of language – isn’t entirely without merit. No less a legal luminary than Dr. Sanford Levinson wrote about this twenty years ago in “The Embarrassing Second Amendment“, noting that the Second is a singularly poorly-written bit of law.
Poorly. Not indecipherably.
Levinson – a card-carrying gun-hating liberal – concludes that the Amendment means…
…exactly what we shooters have always said it means. It’s a right of the people, not the National Guard. And the fact that the Founders never envisioned the AR15 or the HK91 or the Glock is no more important than the fact that they never envisioned radio, TV or the Internet.
Which gives Mr. Weeks’ question a pretty cut and dried answer, albeit one that NPR would like to make sure doesn’t get much airplay.