We thought you might enjoy this short chapter from our latest book, The Constitution – A Revolutionary Story. It explains the events leading up to, the drafting, and the contents of the United States Constitution. This section explains the Second Amendment…
If there’s an amendment that causes more argument than the first, it might be the second. The Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms. People fight over exactly what the second means, but much of the angst stems from the natural evolution of terminology over the years. The way we use words, even the same words, changes over the long haul. Consider these examples:
You used to get “sick” with the flu, or maybe a mild case of bunions. Or you might get “sick” of some person or thing, like Piers Morgan or perhaps Madonna. Now cool things like cars, video games, and half-pipe snowboard tricks are “sick.” This particular word hasn’t just evolved; it’s taken on an opposite meaning.
Once upon a name, “dick” was either a proper name or a synonym for “detective.” If you called someone “Dick,” you wouldn’t get punched in the face, unless the “dick” caught you robbing a bank.
Need we talk about words like “hoes” and “gay?” The point is that commonly accepted meanings of words change over time.
The same word confusion applies to the Second Amendment. Most of the arguments stem from the misunderstanding of two words in this clause: “militia” and “regulated.” Back in the day, the term militia referred to the collection of citizens, and in no way, shape or form was descriptive of a government-controlled armed force. In fact, standing armies were not to be trusted — the framers of the Constitution had just finished getting out from under the thumb of the world’s most powerful standing army and had no desire to make that mistake again.
As for “well regulated” you might think of that in terms of “properly functioning,” like a finely-tuned watch. The word “regulated” had nothing to do with governmental control or oversight. Remember, the thinking of the day was exactly the opposite — the government should have little if any control over much of anything related to the individual. Who do you think provided all the cannons used by the Colonial Army? That’s right, they were privately owned. In fact, all rights as described in the Constitution pertain to individuals only, because the government doesn’t (and can’t) have rights. While today we use “regulated” most frequently to mean “controlled” the word still occasionally serves in its original capacity. Consider that Activia yogurt pitched by Jamie Lee Curtis. It keeps you “well regulated,” right? And we all know government provides no oversight of one’s butt. Well, not counting the TSA of course.
Matter of Fact…
Having just escaped the heavy hand of the British Army, there was a deep mistrust of a central standing military. According to James Madison’s daily notes on the Constitutional Convention proceedings, on August 18, Mr. Luther Martin and Mr. Elbridge Gerry moved that the standing army should not number more than two or three thousand men. We can only assume a bit of sarcasm in General Pinckney’s response when he asked whether no troops were ever to be raised until AFTER an attack should be made.