Skip to comments.The Six Things Americans Should Know About the Second Amendment
Posted on 10/21/2003 8:21:35 PM PDT by yonif
The Six Things Americans Should Know
About the Second Amendment
by Richard W. Stevens
The text of 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.
FIRST: The Second Amendment protects an individual right that existed before the creation of any government. The Declaration of Independence made clear that all human beings are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that governments are created to protect those rights.
A. The unalienable right to freedom from violent harm, and the right to self-defense, both exist before and outside of secular government.
1. Torah: Exodus 22:2.
2. Talmud: Jewish law set forth in the Talmud states, If someone comes to kill you, arise quickly and kill him. (Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin. 1994, 2, 72a; The Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth. 1990, 58a, 62b).
3. Roman Catholic Doctrine: Christian doctrine has long asserted the right and duty of self defense. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow. See Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994, sections 2263-65 (citing and quoting Thomas Aquinas).
4. Protestant Doctrine: Individual has personal and unalienable right to self-defense, even against government. Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex  1982, pp. 159-166, 183-185 (Sprinkle Publications edition.) Jesus advised his disciples to arm themselves in view of likely persecution. Luke 22:36.
B. John Lockes Second Treatise of Government (1690) aimed at reforming Britains monarchy and parliamentary system and limiting the power of government, and profoundly influenced the Founders and all Western Civilization. John Locke explained that civil government properly exists to more effectively protect the rights that all individuals have in the state of nature. The individuals have the rights to life, liberty, and property. They give civil government the power over themselves only to the extent that it better protects those rights. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, specifically declared that the ideas of John Lockes Second Treatise were generally approved by the citizens of the United States. Jefferson mandated that Lockes Second Treatise be taught in the University of Virginia.
C. Christian religious thinkers, such as Samuel Rutherford (in Lex, Rex, 1644) argued that mans rights come from G-d. Using Biblical principles and examples, they argued against the notion that kings ruled by divine right. To be legitimate authorities, all governments must uphold mans rights and do justice. Otherwise, the people owe a lawless and tyrannical ruler no allegiance at all.
D. Cicero, Romes leading orator, had early argued that the right to self-defense was natural and inborn, and not a creation of the government. The right to use weapons was a necessary part of the right to self-defense any view to the contrary was silly nonsense. [Stephen P. Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of A Constitutional Right (1984), p. 17, fn 76-77.]
E. The right to keep and bear arms simply implements the unalienable right to individual self-defense against aggression of any kind. The Second Amendment refers to the right of the people (not the state) as a pre-existing right that government must respect.
F. The United States Supreme Court, in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, indicated that the word people in the Second Amendment referred to individuals, not to states. [494 U.S. 259 (1990)] (This was not a holding or ruling of law, but an observation by the Court).
SECOND: The language of the Second Amendment prohibits the federal government from infringing on this right of the people. There is nothing ambiguous about shall not be infringed. (See Websters New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2d ed.1983, p. 941.) The language of the Second Amendment is about as clear as the First Amendments prohibiting Congress from infringing the right to freedom of speech, press, and religious expression. There is no logical reason to read the Second Amendment as a weak statement, while treating the First Amendment as a strong protector of rights.
A. The Second Amendment protects a fundamental right and should be read broadly because it implements the right of self-defense. Self-defense is the ultimate right of all individuals to preserve life. The rights to a free press, free speech, assembly, and religion are extremely important but none of them matters very much if you cant defend your own life against aggression. None of them matters very much when an evil government is fully armed and its citizens are disarmed.
B. Article I, Section 8, clauses 15 and 16 of the U.S. Constitution refer to Congresss powers concerning the state militias. Clause 15 empowers Congress to call forth the state militias into national service for specific purposes. Clause 16 empowers Congress to organize, arm and discipline the state militias, and to govern the militias while they are in national service. The Second Amendment confines Congresss power by guaranteeing that the Congress cannot govern the militias right out of existence and thereby disarm the people.
THIRD: The Second Amendment refers to a well-regulated militia. The right of the people to form citizen militias was unquestioned by the Founders.
A. The Federalist Papers, No. 28: Alexander Hamilton expressed that when a government betrays the people by amassing too much power and becoming tyrannical, the people have no choice but to exercise their original right of self-defense to fight the government.[Halbrook, p. 67]
B. The Federalist Papers, No. 29: Alexander Hamilton explained that an armed citizenry was the best and only real defense against a standing army becoming large and oppressive. [Halbrook, p. 67]
C. The Federalist Papers, No. 46: James Madison contended that ultimate authority resides in the people, and that if the federal government got too powerful and overstepped its authority, then the people would develop plans of resistance and resort to arms. [Halbrook, p. 67]
D. There was no National Guard, and the Founders opposed anything but a very small national military. The phrase well-regulated means well-trained and disciplined not regulated as we understand that term in the modern sense of bureaucratic regulation. [This meaning still can be found in the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed. 1989, Vol 13, p. 524, and Vol 20. p. 138.]
E. The Federalists promised that state governments and citizen militias would exist to make sure the federal military never became large or oppressive. To say that the National Guard replaces the notion of the militia runs contrary to what the Founders said and wrote.
F. The Third Amendment: Expressly restrains the federal government from building a standing army and infiltrating it among the people ... and at the peoples expense ... in times of peace. The Third Amendment runs against the idea of a permanent standing army or federalized National Guard in principle, if not by its words.
FOURTH: The Second Amendment begins with the phrase A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State. Some people argue that this phrase limits the right to keep and bear arms to militias only ... which they say means the National Guard. Very recent research shows, however, that it was the style of writing legal documents in the late 1700s to include a preamble. The Constitution has a preamble, the Bill of Rights has a preamble yet people dont argue that the Constitution is limited by the preamble. Professor Eugene Volokh at the UCLA Law School has examined numerous other state constitutions of the same general time period, and observed this kind of preamble language in many of them. (The Commonplace Second Amendment, 73 N.Y. Univ. Law Rev. 793-821 (1998)). The preamble states a purpose, not a limitation on the language in these government charters.
- New Hampshires Constitution in 1784 contained a preamble for the freedom of the press: The Liberty of the Press is essential to the security of freedom in a state; it ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.
- Rhode Islands 1842 state constitution recited a preamble before its declaration of the right of free speech and press: The liberty of the press being essential to the security of freedom in a state, any person may publish his sentiments on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty...
- New Hampshires Constitution in 1784 also contained a detailed preamble and explanation of purpose for its right to a criminal trial in the vicinity where the crime occurred.
- The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, the 1784 New Hampshire Constitution and the 1786 Vermont Constitution, all contained preambles or explanations of the right of freedom of speech and debate in the state legislatures.
- The New Hampshire Constitution also gave an explanation, right in the text, for why there should be no ex post facto laws.
B. The Second Amendment falls right within the style of legal drafting of the late 1700s. The militia clause emphasizes the individual right to keep and bear arms by explaining one of its most important purposes. The militia clause does not limit the right.
FIFTH: Before the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment, many states enacted laws that made it illegal for slaves and for free black people to possess firearms (unless they had their masters permission or a government approval). [See list, with sources in law reviews, in Granpa Jack No. 4]
A. The Second Amendment did not protect black people then, because (1) it was understood to limit the federal governments power only and (2) black people were not considered citizens whose rights deserved to be protected. [Dred Scott decision, 60 U.S. 393 (1857) (Judge Taney observed that if blacks had the privileges and immunities of citizenship, then they would be able to freely possess and carry arms ... unthinkable to Southern slave owners.)] [Halbrook, pp. 98, 114-15]
B. The Second Amendment was designed by people who did not want to become slaves to their government, but they were unfortunately and tragically willing to permit private slavery in some states. Now that slavery is abolished, however, all citizens of all races should enjoy the Second Amendments legal protection against despotic government.
SIXTH: Several Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal have held that the Second Amendment does not confer an individual right, but only a collective right of states to form a militia. The federal court decisions cite United States v. Miller as precedent. The 1939 Supreme Court case, United States v. Miller, did not make that ruling. Even in Miller, where only the prosecution filed a brief and the defendants position was not even briefed or argued to the Court, the Supreme Court held that the federal government could only regulate firearms that had no military purpose. [307 U.S. 174 (1939)] [See JPFO special report about Miller case]
A. Nowadays, gun prohibitionists want to illegalize firearms unless they have a sporting purpose. The sporting purpose idea was part of the Nazi Weapons Law of 1938. JPFO has shown that the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 imported much of its organization, content, and phrasing, from the Nazi Weapons Law. [See ... Zelman, Gateway to Tyranny]
B. In contrast, even under the U.S. v. Miller case, the Second Amendment protects the individual right to keep and bear military firearms. Learn how the federal courts deceptively and misleadingly employed the Miller decision to deny the individual right to keep and bear arms in Barnett, Can the Simple Cite Be Trusted?: Lower Court Interpretations of United States v. Miller and the Second Amendment, 26 Cumberland Law Review 961-1004 (1996).
C. A federal judge recently struck down a federal gun control statute as unconstitutional in United States v. Emerson, 46 F. Supp. 2d 598 (N.D. Tex. 1999). In his scholarly written opinion, District Judge Cummings exten-sively reviewed the law and historical foundations of the Second Amendment to conclude that the right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment is an individual right. The Emerson decision remains pending an appeal in the Fifth Circuit as of this date.
Before a government can become a full-blown tyranny, the government must first disarm its citizens. The Founders of this nation, from their own experience, knew that when government goes bad, liberty evaporates and people die ... unless the people are armed.
CHALLENGE TO AMERICANS
As you read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights:
(1) Look at the enumerated powers of the federal government;
(2) Look at the express limitations on federal power as set forth in the Second, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments;
(3) Ask yourself, where does the federal government get any power at all to regulate firearms?
(4) Ask yourself, why dont the high school and college textbooks devote any time to the history, philosophical basis and practical meaning of the Second Amendment?
And then consider that law students and future lawyers likewise have received precious little education about the Second Amendment.
Realize, too, that the judges know just about as little. Then imagine how little the average American knows based on the average public school coverage of the Constitution.
The protection of our sacred right of self-defense against both petty criminals and oppressive government the right of civilians to keep and bear arms is in your hands.
The Bill of Rights Sentinel, Fall 2001, pp. 31-33
Copyright (c) 1991 by The New Gun Week and Second Amendment Foundation. Informational reproduction of the entire article is hereby authorized provided the author, The New Gun Week and Second Amendment Foundation are credited. All other rights reserved.
THE UNABRIDGED SECOND AMENDMENT
by J. Neil Schulman
If you wanted to know all about the Big Bang, you'd ring up Carl Sagan, right? And if you wanted to know about desert warfare, the man to call would be Norman Schwartzkopf, no question about it. But who would you call if you wanted the top expert on American usage, to tell you the meaning of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution?
That was the question I asked Mr. A.C. Brocki, Editorial Coordinator of the Los Angeles Unified School District and formerly senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Publishers -- who himself had been recommended to me as the foremost expert on English usage in the Los Angeles school system. Mr. Brocki told me to get in touch with Roy Copperud, a retired professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and the author of "American Usage and Style: The Consensus".
A little research lent support to Brocki's opinion of Professor Copperud's expertise.
Roy Copperud was a newspaper writer on major dailies for over three decades before embarking on a distinguished seventeen-year career teaching journalism at USC. Since 1952, Copperud has been writing a column dealing with the professional aspects of journalism for "Editor and Publisher", a weekly magazine focusing on the journalism field.
He's on the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and Merriam Webster's Usage Dictionary frequently cites him as an expert. Copperud's fifth book on usage, "American Usage and Style: The Consensus", has been in continuous print from Van Nostrand Reinhold since 1981, and is the winner of the Association of American Publishers' Humanities Award.
That sounds like an expert to me.
After a brief telephone call to Professor Copperud in which I introduced myself but did "not" give him any indication of why I was interested, I sent the following letter:
*** "July 26, 1991
"Dear Professor Copperud:
"I am writing you to ask you for your professional opinion as an expert in English usage, to analyze the text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and extract the intent from the text.
"The text of the Second Amendment is, '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.'
"The debate over this amendment has been whether the first part of the sentence, "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State," is a restrictive clause or a subordinate clause, with respect to the independent clause containing the subject of the sentence, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
"I would request that your analysis of this sentence not take into consideration issues of political impact or public policy, but be restricted entirely to a linguistic analysis of its meaning and intent. Further, since your professional analysis will likely become part of litigation regarding the consequences of the Second Amendment, I ask that whatever analysis you make be a professional opinion that you would be willing to stand behind with your reputation, and even be willing to testify under oath to support, if necessary."
My letter framed several questions about the text of the Second Amendment, then concluded:
"I realize that I am asking you to take on a major responsibility and task with this letter. I am doing so because, as a citizen, I believe it is vitally important to extract the actual meaning of the Second Amendment. While I ask that your analysis not be affected by the political importance of its results, I ask that you do this because of that importance.
"J. Neil Schulman"
After several more letters and phone calls, in which we discussed terms for his doing such an analysis, but in which we never discussed either of our opinions regarding the Second Amendment, gun control, or any other political subject, Professor Copperud sent me the following analysis (into which I've inserted my questions for the sake of clarity):
[Copperud:] The words "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state," contrary to the interpretation cited in your letter of July 26, 1991, constitute a present participle, rather than a clause. It is used as an adjective, modifying "militia," which is followed by the main clause of the sentence (subject "the right," verb "shall"). The right to keep and bear arms is asserted as essential for maintaining a militia.
In reply to your numbered questions:
[Schulman: (1) Can the sentence be interpreted to grant the right to keep and bear arms "solely" to "a well-regulated militia"?;]
[Copperud:] (1) The sentence does not restrict the right to keep and bear arms, nor does it state or imply possession of the right elsewhere or by others than the people; it simply makes a positive statement with respect to a right of the people.
[Schulman: (2) Is "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" "granted" by the words of the Second Amendment, or does the Second Amendment assume a preexisting right of the people to keep and bear arms, and merely state that such right "shall not be infringed"?;]
[Copperud:] (2) The right is not granted by the amendment; its existence is assumed. The thrust of the sentence is that the right shall be preserved inviolate for the sake of ensuring a militia.
[Schulman: (3) Is the right of the people to keep and bear arms conditioned upon whether or not a well-regulated militia is, in fact, necessary to the security of a free State, and if that condition is not existing, is the statement "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" null and void?;]
[Copperud:] (3) No such condition is expressed or implied. The right to keep and bear arms is not said by the amendment to depend on the existence of a militia. No condition is stated or implied as to the relation of the right to keep and bear arms and to the necessity of a well-regulated militia as requisite to the security of a free state. The right to keep and bear arms is deemed unconditional by the entire sentence.
[Schulman: (4) Does the clause "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State," grant a right to the government to place conditions on the "right of the people to keep and bear arms," or is such right deemed unconditional by the meaning of the entire sentence?;]
[Copperud:] (4) The right is assumed to exist and to be unconditional, as previously stated. It is invoked here specifically for the sake of the militia.
[Schulman: (5) Which of the following does the phrase "well-regulated militia" mean: "well-equipped," "well-organized," "well-drilled," "well-educated," or "subject to regulations of a superior authority"?]
[Copperud:] (5) The phrase means "subject to regulations of a superior authority"; this accords with the desire of the writers for civilian control over the military.
[Schulman: If at all possible, I would ask you to take into account the changed meanings of words, or usage, since that sentence was written two-hundred years ago, but not to take into account historical interpretations of the intents of the authors, unless those issues can be clearly separated.]
[Copperud:] To the best of my knowledge, there has been no change in the meaning of words or in usage that would affect the meaning of the amendment. If it were written today, it might be put: "Since a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged."
[Schulman: As a "scientific control" on this analysis, I would also appreciate it if you could compare your analysis of the text of the Second Amendment to the following sentence, "A well-schooled electorate, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be infringed."
My questions for the usage analysis of this sentence would be,
(1) Is the grammatical structure and usage of this sentence, and the way the words modify each other, identical to the Second Amendment's sentence?; and
(2) Could this sentence be interpreted to restrict "the right of the people to keep and read Books" "only" to "a well-educated electorate" -- for example, registered voters with a high-school diploma?]
[Copperud:] (1) Your "scientific control" sentence precisely parallels the amendment in grammatical structure.
(2) There is nothing in your sentence that either indicates or implies the possibility of a restricted interpretation.
Professor Copperud had only one additional comment, which he placed in his cover letter: "With well-known human curiosity, I made some speculative efforts to decide how the material might be used, but was unable to reach any conclusion."
So now we have been told by one of the top experts on American usage what many knew all along: the Constitution of the United States unconditionally protects the people's right to keep and bear arms, forbidding all government formed under the Constitution from abridging that right.
I was looking at the "View" section of the LA Times from December 18, 1991 today -- an article on James Michener which my wife Kate had saved for me to read -- when the beginning of Jack Smith's column caught my eye: "Roy Copperud had no sooner died the other day than I had occasion to consult his excellent book, 'American Usage and Style: The Consensus.'"
Thus I learned of the death a few weeks ago of Roy Copperud, the retired USC professor whom I commissioned to do a grammatical analysis of the Second Amendment this past summer. (My article was published in the September 13th issue of "Gun Week".) It seems to have been one of the last projects he worked on. It is certainly one of the most important.
Roy Copperud told me afterwards that he, personally, favored gun control, but his analysis of the Second Amendment made clear that its protections of the right of the people to keep and bear arms were unaffected by its reference to militia. This sort of intellectual and professional honesty is sorely lacking in public discourse today.
In my several letters and phone conversations with Professor Copperud, I found him to be a gentleman of the old school. The planet is a little poorer without him.
J. Neil Schulman December 27, 1991
------------------------------ End of Article ---------------------------------------
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.