How quickly we forget the simplicity and elegance of our Constitution. Politicians and a complicit media gleefully ignore the rules set forth in our national owners manual, allowing elected officials, in reality, our employees and servants, to run amok.
One of the shortest, and most poorly understood concepts comes from the Bill of Rights — the Second Amendment to be more specific. On this prelude to Constitution Day, I thought you might enjoy a quick excerpt from my book, The Practical Guide to the United States Constitution.
2nd Amendment: The Right to Own Guns
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 precisely 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. In present terminology, 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.
The point is that commonly accepted meanings of words change over the years.
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. They 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 Activia yogurt as pitched by Jamie Lee Curtis. It keeps you “well regulated,” but we all know government provides no oversight of one’s digestion, although it’s been known to cause indigestion.”