Cloudy Made Clear

English. What a language!  Words come and go and some even change meaning. The flavor of language today is different from eras past. If language were a meal, the usage of the 18th century, the language of the Constitution, would be plated and served five course dining, while language today is more akin to take-out Chinese scooped from boxes.

Usage contrasts are stark within the constitutional amendments that have been written over time. If we read the Bill of Rights, written in 1789, we find ourselves plodding along, reading and rereading trying to be sure we’re understanding the “thereofs”, the “whereins”, and phrases like “twice put in jeopardy.” Those are all still meaningful, but do not share a cadence with today’s language. If we skip to Amendments 17-27, the last ten, all written in the 20th century, the reading makes for more easily accessed comprehension. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote … shall not be denied …”–easy-peasy.

If we were to randomly select an early amendment to consider for revision–oh, let’s say maybe the Second Amendment–we could find ways to modernize the language and make the meaning more fit for 21st century consumption. There is precedent for amendment revision. The 17th was revised in 1992 after being in effect since 1913.

Way back in 1789 the word “Militia” (note the capital M still being used for nouns from our Germanic language roots) had a definite and standard meaning. Militias were a group of citizen soldiers who were enlisted within every state to serve as protectors of our country from invaders domestic or foreign. There was no confusion because state militias were the only official army in the country. The national army was, for the most part, disbanded after the Revolutionary War due to fear by some that a strong government run military could be used tyrannically over citizens, and conversely by others who feared, due to poor treatment showered on soldiers by the government–like not paying them–the army could exercise a coup d’état. There was conflict of thought even then, but the result was 13 state militias to serve when needed.

Slowly, a national army grew, especially after the Civil War. Citizen militias were replaced by the standing military as a primary force for defense. Since 1636, “National Guard” and “militia” were synonyms until Congress took control of the National Guard through the National Defense Act of 1916. The Act called for the name change, making the state-run militias obsolete in favor of the, now federally managed, National Guard.

Law the Second Amendment created has been replaced by statute–the 1916 Defense Act. Therefore, to be accurate the first words of the amendment should be revised to read: “A government regulated National Guard, being necessary to the security of a free state …” That is the law today, making the rest of the amendment about keeping and bearing arms moot and in need of its own consideration if private citizen gun ownership is to be addressed at all in the Constitution.

To further conflict, the word militia has evolved into two distinct meanings. One is the original, and obsolete meaning from the Second Amendment–a citizen band in support of the national army. The other definition for militia, in common use today, is an armed aggressor and enemy of the government. Modern supremacist groups have formed militias that band together prepared to fight against any perceived tyranny foisted by the U.S. government. Therefore, any modern reading of the Second Amendment, as it is written, gives the impression the Constitution is calling for a band of armed insurgents against the government. Today’s self-appointed, supremacist militias that hide out in camps in wilderness areas do so explicitly to avoid being “well regulated.” 240 years of language evolution have made the entire amendment hazy.

Also, what wouldn’t be clear to the fine folks who wrote the amendment, is the evolution of “arms” (or Arms) over the years. When they were writing the choice was pretty much a one-shot pistol or a one-shot musket. The Founding Fathers would be agog over what “arms” have become.

The Constitution is rife with compromises and limitations–there’s the three-fifths of a person compromise, and the whole system of a bicameral Congress for example. The Founding Fathers were careful with what they were writing, so to say that if they had had a chance to limit the type of gun available to citizens, from hundreds of choices, they likely would have.

There is another sanctioned remedy beyond revision to the obsolete and confusion riddled Second Amendment. We could go the 21st Amendment route and completely repeal the Second, like we did with prohibition. That way the Second would still be part of the Constitution, just invalid in modern applications. Then we could rely on the 10th Amendment, like we did licensing alcohol manufacture and sale after the repeal of the Volstead Act. Because militia and arms would no longer be enumerated, states and people decide the legality of gun ownership in this country with full knowledge of what is available.

There, we’ve fixed the ambiguities of the Second Amendment. Let’s move on to the Third. It’s been ages since any army Colonel has tried to require me to quarter a soldier in my house …

Comments

  1. Teri Nehrenz says:

    The flaw in the story would be that the constitution wasn’t written today, in modern language. It was written then, in Old English terms and can’t be rewritten, modernly, just because it makes it ‘cloudy’ for some to interpret.
    You also can not say with absolute certainty what any one of our founding fathers would have thought or likely have done. Unless you have gifts we don’t know about, that’s your conjecture, you didn’t talk to their ghosts to get the facts.
    Facts are that no president, government entity or even the general public has ever put forth this much effort to disarm citizens. Anything before hand was on a much smaller scale.
    Never in history have we had so many mass shootings but those same weapons have been around for years.
    Fact is people are afraid of other people and what they might do with those weapons, well, so are the ones who still support the second amendment as written.
    If it’s the possibility of “what one can do with them” then focus on the people and why this is happening. It’s not the guns, they can’t walk into a school and shoot themselves, a person or people have to pull triggers
    Making it harder for the average citizen to purchase guns isn’t going to keep the guns out of the hands of the idiots.
    Government hasn’t been able to control drugs, they haven’t been able to control crime, what makes you think and want to risk that they can control the purchase of guns by criminals? To even put your faith in government protection and oversight is asking to become a sitting duck.
    I live in a rural area, it may take the authorities 4 hours or more to get to me, I’m not willing to possibly NOT have at least the same fire power they will most definitely have when they want to intrude in my home.Thinking that I’ll get any backup from the law would be delusional on my part.
    You nor anyone else that continues to believe that it’s a gun issue rather than a people issue aren’t about to make those “ability to protect myself and family’ decisions for me, I believe you’re all delusional in your thinking that stronger gun laws will cure the problem. Take a look at the schools, the students involved and the histories of bullying in their schools, the other students weren’t exactly helping their own situations by bullying others…let’s start holding the PEOPLE accountable for their actions, not the object the PEOPLE use to strike back or attack…it hasn’t been just guns…planes, trains and automobiles all played a part in intentional devastation as did knives, bombs and chemicals…all used by PEOPLE; the common denominator seems to be the PEOPLE.

    • Teri Nehrenz says:

      I personally interpret the second amendment stating, “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 meaning that I have the basic right to both; a militia/military to protect my country and personal arms to protect my self and my posterity. Weather looks clear and sunny to me.

      • Terry Donnelly says:

        Thanks for your thoughts, Teri. I think your reading of the Second Amendment is what you wish it were rather than what it really states.

        • Teri Nehrenz says:

          Both of our readings of the Second Amendment is what we wish it were rather than what it really states. Much like the Bible, isn’t everybody’s interpretation of the printed word rather subjective; especially since non of us was actually present when they were written?

          • Terry Donnelly says:

            There is a lot of written history that supports what I say about how Founding Fathers would react to today’s world. No, we can’t be sure, and I have no supernatural powers, but the data we do have is pretty compelling if not defining.

  2. Michelle Poe says:

    I appreciate your interpretation of the meaning behind the 2nd amendment. I also think that “well regulated” might need to be reviewed by some. Guns are getting into the hands of people that are hurting our children. That makes me think some regulation is needed. Even those that love their guns should see that. Unless you can’t pass a background check or have a mental illness then I don’t see why that is such a big deal. Our kids are more important than unregulated access to guns.

    • Teri Nehrenz says:

      well regulated appears in the militia description for the purpose of protection…I believe the term “well regulated” in its context is referring to our military/militia being well and consistently trained. Guns have always been in the hands of bad guys. If the present regulations don’t stop them from getting their hands on them what makes you think that stricter regulations are going to make a difference? Prohibition didn’t work, the war on drugs obviously didn’t work. Crime is up, not down…it’s not working, laws…government…police forces to protect citizens aren’t working….everybody has the basic human nature to fight or flee, I prefer to fight, as do others, and everyone should be able to protect themselves. Do you think that someone who caused an automobile accident that resulted in death and was convicted of a felony, someone who after serving their time deserves NOT to have the right to defend themselves? Do you believe that someone who’s had a felony drug or DUI charge 20 years ago and a perfect record since deserves to never be able to purchase a simple gun for protection? What about those who have no violence in their pasts but committed some white collar crime? That’s where those stronger regulations will punish people who don’t necessarily deserve to continue to be punished after paying their dues decades ago. The laws are strict enough now and they still don’t work, the criminals and the greedy will always win because they don’t care about the laws.

      • Terry Donnelly says:

        Teri, you are arguing that you have information about the intent that you criticize me for formulating out of my research. The assault rifle ban from 1994-2004 reduced mass assaults by 43%. This was with absolutely no confiscation of any weapon. By the time the law was allowed to sunset, police were finding very few clips with more than 10 shot capacity, something the law called for, but again, did not go out and confiscate. When the law was allowed to sunset, mass shootings went up over 200%. It doesn’t take a lot to understand that if that law alone had been left in tact, by now we’d be in much better shape in regards to one of the problems with mass shootings. Please note that the assault ban and not one word from this column has advocated for confiscating one single weapon. There isn’t one panacea law that will fix our problem, but every small step we take will make it better. We don’t have proactive regulations. They all are installed because of misuse and loopholes in existing laws. And, we’re not talking about “a simple weapon”, we’re talking about weapons of war designed specifically to kill humans. The war on drugs didn’t work because of a really misinformed definition about how drugs are scheduled. If we ever get past federal laws about pot and non violent drug crimes, our drug problems will become clearer and begin to be fairer–but that is for another discussion. We’re trying to make us better.

        • Teri Nehrenz says:

          I didn’t argue that I had any “information” about intent, I simply stated what I BELIEVE to be MY perception of those words, never did I say anything that would lead anyone to believe that I had information concerning their intent nor would I presume to know what it was.

  3. Beth Fletcher says:

    Who cares what the —- interpretation is of the 2nd amendment. The point is people are dying because of the interpretation of the 2nd amendment. Are you going to tell a parent whose son or daughter that has just died because of the AR15 that is allowed to be sold to anyone that the interpretation of the 2nd amendment says they can own the gun and use it.

    • Teri Nehrenz says:

      Why not, I live every day with the fact that my child was killed in 2012 because prescription drugs are made legal by doctors and available to anyone. It’s the responsibility of the people, I don’t blame the drugs, I blame my son who took them. I also don’t blame the guns and they’ll be available REGARDLESS, I blame the people who were pushed to the point of using them and those who did the pushing.

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