Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dan Baum on the 2nd Amendment

Mr. Baum wrote a wonderful article last summer. In part it reads:

It’s a mystery to me why the gun-control community has allowed their opponents to walk off with the Second Amendment. If the amendment guarantees an individual right to own a gun, it also confers a right to regulate gun ownership. It’s right the text: “...a well-regulated militia....” Even accepting the gun enthusiasts’ definition of the militia as the broad community of armed citizens, it seems clear that the Second Amendment not only allows but requires regulation. Put another way, Sarah Brady has Second Amendment rights too: the right to have the militia -- the community of armed citizens -- well regulated. Why is she -- and the rest of the country that wants tighter restrictions on guns -- not making a Second Amendment case?

And one of the comments, in part:

Actually none of you are technically right. The most important word in the 2A is not "well-regulated" nor "militia" nor "the people" nor any of the others until you get to the last one -- "infringed."

The word "infringe," as any good English teacher should be able to tell you, means to abolish or cancel. The correct usage is not that one "infringes upon" something -- one "infringes" something. Look it up in the oldest American dictionary you will find, Websters 1828 (hint: it's online). The word came into our language from the French, "infrangere," meaning "to break." The meaning was not at that time the same as "abridged," as much as many gun owners today would wish it so.

In the last 200 years we have seen the word change meanings somewhat and now it has come to be synonymous with words like "impinge," or to mean to restrict, trespass upon, or limit. Sorry folks, that's not its classical meaning. To paraphrase, "...the right of the people shall not be abolished or cancelled." That's how the founders would have understood it and what they thought they were writing.
Fascinating, isn't it? Did you know that the word really means "to break" and not to weaken or diminish?

Please leave a comment.


  1. Your "wonderful" author better look up the word "regulated" as used in the context of the 2nd Amendment. It means "trained" not restricted or controlled.

  2. FWM is wrong as usual.

    "Well-regulated" doen't mean just trained--it also means organized and under discipline.

    I recently read the book "Washington: A Life" by Ron Chernow. In many of Geo Washington's letters and correspondence he complains of militia units that are not "well-regulated"--i.e., not trained, not organized and without leadership or discipline. In fact, Washington might castigate his subordinates by stating the troops under a particular command were not well-regulated. In those days, there were really only two distinctions to be made: well-regulated or a mob.

    Another factoid: WRT Paul Revere's famous ride--schoolkids are often taught Revere yelled "The British are coming! The British are coming!"

    But this is highly unlikely as many along his ride route considered themselves British subjects. It's actually far more likely Revere shouted "The regulars are coming!" meaning well-regulated troops were coming.

  3. FWM sorry, but regulated means under civilain control, not trained.

    Adma Smith makes the Comment in Wealth of Nations that:

    "it will be found, bears testimony to the irresistible superiority which a well-regulated standing army has over a militia." Book Five Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth, CHAPTER I,PART 1: Of the Expense of Defence.

    The big issue in Anglo-American history was civilian control over the armed forces, whether professional army or militia. Hence, Smith's concern was not whether the Standing Army was well trained, but rather that it was under civilian control. You would find if you examined the primary sources that this was a concern when the Second Amendment was drafted.

    Again my fav passage on this topic, the Pennsylvania Minority:

    7. That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and their own state, or the United States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up: and that the military shall be kept under strict subordination to and be governed by the civil powers.

    The Pennsylvania Minority is not a unique document as most of the debates concerned civilian control over the military forces: standing army and militia. Any military force which is not under civilian control would be a private army no matter how well trained it would be.

    I would also add that the passage from Smith pretty much shows that the Militia was a moribund institution.

    Anyway, since you are a middle aged, fat, hypertensive--you are NOT a member of the militia due to health reasons.

  4. Jade,
    As much as it pains me to say it we are on the same page with this one. Yes, trained as in disciplined regulars.

  5. I, for the life of me, can't figure out what the problem is. The right of the people to have a regulated militia shall not be infringed.

    In other words, the people have the right for the severest form of gun regulations possible.

  6. The Militia of One of which I am Supreme Generalissimo is very well (self-)regulated. Were that not the case, I would be a very poor Supreme Generalissimo indeed.

  7. when second amendment supporters talk about a militia they should look at the issue of the all volunteer force (AVF) and military service. the concept behind the 2nd amendment is to keep a check on the tendency of the central government to become too powerful and also to have a citizen military like Switzerland. The elimination of the draft allowed chicken hawk politicians from both political parties to wage perpetual war that is bankrupting the country. the 2nd amendment can be viewed as a concept by the framers of the constitution to ensure all citizens have a vested interest in why and with who the central government declares war.

  8. I thought we were talking about the meaning of "infringed," which as pointed out in the article means to break completely not just to limit.

    But, in addition to that, these discussions about "regulated" seem to support the gun control side, don't you think?

  9. "Why is she -- and the rest of the country that wants tighter restrictions on guns -- not making a Second Amendment case?"

    Because she and her cohorts are against the Second Amendment. Their end goal is not tighter restrictions on guns. Their end goal is the elimination of guns. Restrictions are just means to an end.

    The last thing they want to do is legitimize the Second Amendment by using it to defend their cause, because by proxy, they'd be legitimizing guns.