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OP/ED – The 2nd Amendment: Twenty-Seven Relatively Simple Words

JD Lock, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

25 February 2018


The 2nd 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.


Twenty-seven words, so poorly written, they continue to serve, since its ratification on December 15, 1791, as perhaps the most contentious words written in the English language, seen by some as an absolute individual protection against tyranny and oppression, by others as a dangerous archaic misinterpretation.


Embedded within these twenty-seven words are words such as "militia," “the right" and “the people,” each loaded with enough historical setting, subtlety and nuance to act as a psychological inkblot test for even the most educated and non-biased interpreters.


Yet, that said, when parsed, there is an unbiased, interpretive perspective that can provide a much greater degree of clarification and understanding.


  • A well regulated Militia: “Well regulated” did not mean “regulation” in 1791 but, instead, “well planned, disciplined, armed.”  As for “Militia,” militia were state based and controlled local troops, aka “Minute Men.”  In other words, a well regulated Militia was a prepared and professional ‘State Army,’ today’s National Guard.


  • being necessary to the security of a free State: States’ Rights were a major point of contention…after all, the malevolent and sinful institution of Slavery had to be accepted and included in the US Constitution to address Southern States’ Rights demands.  While a large standing national (Continental) Army was an anathema to the Founding Fathers, they obviously felt compelled to anticipate such an eventuality and, thus, they saw the concept of a State Militia, one for each of the original Thirteen Colonies, as a deterrent against any national tyranny.


  • the right of the people to keep and bear Arms: Perhaps the prickliest phrase in American history, “the right of the people.”  To place in proper context, the Virginian author, James Madison, had the 1777 Virginia Declaration of Rights by his side, Section 13, which reads as follows:


That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.


Look familiar?  “The People.”  The US is not a democracy, per se, it is a Republic – hence, the “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands,” where ‘the people’ are represented by those elected, as reflected by the Electoral College that elects the President of the United States, and as reflected by each State’s member of Congress who legislates on our behalf.


Interestingly enough, for perspective, the word “Individual” shows up only once in either the Declaration of Independence or Constitution of the United States:


Letter of Transmittal to the President of Congress, Monday September 17th 1787.

We have now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States in Congress assembled, that Constitution which has appeared to us the most advisable.

It is obviously impracticable in the Federal Government of these States to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all. Individuals entering into society must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest.


‘The People’ relative to this Amendment is not singular, it is plural, as in ‘the right of the State.’


  • shall not be infringed:  Why this?  Maybe, the fundamental basis for this right can be found in The Declaration of Independence:


That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…


Thus, to parse the Founding Fathers through an interpretive lens of their time:


A well regulated [well-organized, well-armed, well-disciplined] Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State [the original 13 Colonies], the right of the people [State] to keep and bear Arms [defend itself against potential federal tyranny], shall not be infringed [by said federal entity].


Which leads us to Las Vegas, Pulse nightclub, Virginia Tech, Sutherland Springs, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Stoneman Douglas.  These and other massacres and mass shootings with military style assault weapons continue, unabated.


United Kingdom, Norway, Australia and Japan, fellow allies, fellow democracies.  Each had massacres that led to weapons control measures that have eliminated such mass shootings.


The contrast between the US and these others?  Maybe, the definition of stupidity?  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?  How’s that been working for us? 


Should we adopt the gun control measures of the UK, et al?  Not necessarily, but take note NRA.  Lacking a 100% solution to a problem does not mean one does not start with low hanging fruit, such as banning assault style weapons and large capacity magazines.  These weapons and accessories are not necessary to hunt ‘Bambi’ and, if there is a need to own them for self-defense, I tend to believe as a former US Army Airborne Ranger that the odds are you’re already well outgunned.


One has to believe the Founding Fathers would most certainly be horrified at the lack of our common sense and inability to compromise on a solution.  After all, the Founding Father’s probable concept of a semi-automatic weapon and high capacity magazine was a Minute Man capable of reloading a muzzle loader twice a minute from a cartridge belt that carried twenty paper encased musket balls.


As a society, we parents have failed, miserably, ourselves, our children and grandchildren.  It’s time we now step up to stop this carnage as part of the solution and not part of the problem.  While the vast majority of gun owners, such as myself, are responsible people with a right to self-defense, it needs to be acknowledged that we will never be able to prevent shootings, in general, for there are too many crazies, just one is too many, and too many weapons to control or eradicate.


However, the issue facing us is one of mitigation, not elimination.  Given the number who have survived mass shootings as a result of a shooter being forced to reload, we can make it more difficult to kill in large numbers and that is an easy place to start working towards an eventual solution. 


Word Count: 1085

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