English Grammar and Usage, Guns / Firearms, Reader Polls, Violence

On Pistols and Punctuation (Plus a Poll)

gun pistol firearm Second Amendment Harris Parker dc gun control case.JPGYesterday’s New York Times contains an interesting op-ed about how to read the Second Amendment. Adam Freedman — author of The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese, a potential stocking stuffer for the lawyer in your life — parses the use of commas in the amendment. He concludes:

[At the time of the Second Amendment’s drafting,] lawmakers took a devil-may-care approach to punctuation. Often, the whole business of punctuation was left to the discretion of scriveners, who liked to show their chops by inserting as many varied marks as possible.

Another problem with trying to find meaning in the Second Amendment’s commas is that nobody is certain how many commas it is supposed to have. The version that ended up in the National Archives has three, but that may be a fluke. Legal historians note that some states ratified a two-comma version. At least one recent law journal article refers to a four-comma version.

The best way to make sense of the Second Amendment is to take away all the commas (which, I know, means that only outlaws will have commas). Without the distracting commas, one can focus on the grammar of the sentence.

… [W]hen the justices finish diagramming the Second Amendment, they should end up with something that expresses a causal link, like: “Because 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 infringed.” In other words, the amendment is really about protecting militias, notwithstanding the originalist arguments to the contrary.

In fairness to the other side of the debate, that’s just one scholar’s opinion. Many others, including prominent liberal academics, disagree.
What do you think? Take our poll, after the jump.


According to a recent CNN poll (via Morning Docket), approximately two-thirds of Americans think the Constitution guarantees an individual right to own a gun. Does the ATL readership feel the same way?


Clause and Effect [New York Times]
Majority in U.S. poll support gun ownership rights [CNN]

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