Remembering Their Oath

The nine-minute video clip below illustrates in a nutshell the current cultural struggle in the United States between the opponents and supporters of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

That there should even be a discussion of the issue is a sign of how low the American polity has sunk. There are very few sentences in legal documents that are clearer than this one:

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.

Anyone who can read — which admittedly represents a declining percentage of the American population — can understand the plain meaning of those words.

On January 15, a citizen of the town of Oak Harbor, Washington, got up to address his remarks to the city council during the period for public comments. His revelation that he possessed a concealed carry permit, and that he was in fact “packing heat” right there in the chamber, upset several council members. One of them felt strongly enough about the issue to propose a city ordinance banning the carrying of weapons at council meetings — notwithstanding the fact that such an ordinance would have violated the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution, and the laws of the state of Washington. When the motion failed to pass, the councilman was too distressed to remain in the meeting.

The response by Mayor Scott Dudley to the incident was inspiring. Make sure you watch all the way through this clip so that you can hear the mayor’s calm, lucid, well-reasoned opinion about his oath of office and what the Second Amendment means to Americans:

I agree with Mayor Dudley: I feel safer knowing that ordinary law-abiding citizens like myself carry guns.

All of my neighbors have guns, and I am not afraid of them because of it; I am actually less afraid than I would be if they weren’t well-armed. They come to our front door during hunting season carrying their rifles — pointed carefully downwards, finger off the trigger, per the safety guidelines — to ask permission to hunt on our property.

I gladly consent, and I’m glad that my neighbors have rifles and plenty of ammo. One of these days they may need them to shoot at something besides white-tailed deer.

Hat tip: Don L.

20 thoughts on “Remembering Their Oath

  1. The wording of the second Amendment seems curiously liable to ambiguity or imprecision.

    “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.”

    It’s that third phrase that’s the niggling problem: “[comma]…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,…”

    The purport of the locution’s semantics lends itself to the conclusion that this phrase is meant to modify the first phrase of the sentence — “A well regulated Militia[comma]…” — rather than to introduce an additional clause as the object of the verb “[not] infringed”. Again, this does not seem to be clearly and explicitly denoted, but only to be reasonably inferred as the likelier meaning. If so, it means that this right of the people is defined by “A…Militia” and does not extend beyond it.

    Of course, I am only analyzing the logic of the semantics, distinct from what has been gleaned through legal application and interpretation that has occurred over the past two and a quarter centuries.

  2. Whatever one thinks of the statement’s clarity, the wording would surely be considerably more clear if a couple of commas were deleted, i.e.:

    “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.”

    That, anyway, must be how it’s intended to be read.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  3. “That there should even be a discussion of the issue is a sign of how low the American polity has sunk.”

    That’s the problem right there. Not Dianne Feinstein. Not Barack Obama. Not Leftist, Marxist ideology.

    Mayor Scott Dudley is one of the good guys. And so are a whole bunch of US Sheriffs out there. But spend 10 minutes listening to the growing majority of American voters today. The principles upon which the US Republic was founded are unknown to them. Their own history is unknown to them as well as current events.

    How can you reason with people like this? How can they possibly sustain a free Republic? This is what we’re up against and it’s only going to get worse. In political battles numbers prevail over arguments.

    Thanks to Mayor Dudley for sticking up for the US Constitution.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skw-0jv9kts
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zsr0UpVjoE

  4. Hi Hesp: Go on over to Karl Denninger at Market-Ticker and search back through all of the commentaries until you read the 2nd Amendment commentaries and comments.

    Karl Denninger explains it all. :)

  5. I’m always HAPPY to know that law-abiding citizens are packin’.

    We feel a lot more secure when numerous friends who have a CCW permit (not that anybody should be required to have such a permit – the 2nd Amendment should suffice) will be attending public events with us.

  6. Jeffery Hodges is correct. Writers at that time inserted commas where we would not place them today. There are essentially two clauses in the sentence, the main clause being: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” What precedes that cannot reasonably be interpreted as a conditional clause. It does not say, in any plausible reading, that the right to bear arms is conditional upon belonging to a “well-regulated [i.e. government-controlled] militia.” It only gives a reason why the right to bear arms is necessary to a free state.

    Funny how those who insist that the Second Amendment means you may bear arms only within some kind of government-controlled military or paramilitary force (which voids the right of any real meaning) tend to be the same people who insist that it also doesn’t mean you have a right to possess what they call military-style weapons — which kinda looks like a contradiction, doesn’t it? They really just want a disarmed citizenry.

  7. The 2nd amendment was Madison’s 1789 expression of a God given, or natural, right. That right existed before him and after him. Legal scholars and linguists can forever analyze the incidental grammar of Madison’s words. No matter, let them have at it. But we today have to claim that right for our own.

  8. I have some doubt that the right to bear arms was considered a natural right. I suspect that it was considered a logical extension of the self-evident, natural rights to life and liberty.

    The right to life is implicit in the right to bear arms, intrinsically related to “security,” and take note that the emphasis in the causal clause is on a “free” state. The state must be free in two senses: 1) free to defend itself externally and internally and 2) free in safeguarding the liberty of its inhabitants. The logically derived right of citizens (i.e., “the people”) to bear arms coheres with protecting both of these freedoms.

    This does not necessarily imply that there can be no restrictions on bearing arms. I should not be allowed to have private nuclear weapons, for instance. At issue is the degree to which being armed is sufficient to assure security (life) and freedom (liberty).

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    • The natural right to life, and to defend that life, precedes the 2nd amendment. My argument is that the wording of the 2nd amendment, though historically interesting, is irrelevant to that natural right.

  9. As Americans, claiming the right to bear arms would appear to be easy because we can defer to the constitution as conferring that right.

    But that depends upon other Americans sharing one’s understanding on the second amendment’s meaning, so deferring to the constitution is insufficient.

    We therefore need an argument that clarifies the meaning of the second amendment and justifies the constitutional right in terms of more basic rights, e.g., the rights to life and liberty.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    • “…we can defer to the constitution as conferring that right.”

      The Constitution does not confer rights. It only recognizes them.

  10. In a legal sense, the constitution confers rights. The right to possess slaves was once conferred by the constitution, but that right was eventually rescinded because it was seen to be against natural rights and even unconstitutional. The constitution confers the legal right to bear arms. That right still needs to be philosophically grounded, which is — I suspect — why the amendment refers to liberty and, indirectly, to life, for these two were considered natural rights.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    • Madison initially opposed including a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Among other reasons he understood that these rights already belonged to the people. Others were concerned that a listing of rights might suggest that those rights not explicitly listed would then be in jeopardy.

      The 9th amendment reads “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

      These other rights retained by the people which aren’t enumerated, where do they derive? They derive from the same place all of our rights do. They are inherent, natural rights. The Constitution grants us nothing. It confers upon us nothing. We have these rights at birth.

      “The constitution confers the legal right to bear arms.” The Constitution recognizes the right to bear arms. It does not confer it upon us.

  11. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

    Certainly any rights not enumerated would remain rights, but that doesn’t entail that every right enumerated in the Constitution is a natural right. That was my point about slavery. The possession of slaves was once included as a right, but later revoked. Was it a right “recognized” or a right “conferred”? I would think that it was a right conferred but one eventually recognized as violating the natural right of liberty.

    The right to bear arms doesn’t look like a natural right to me; rather, it appears to me to be a right stemming from the natural rights to life and liberty.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    • “but that doesn’t entail that every right enumerated in the Constitution is a natural right.” Agreed.

      On this issue I’m happy to agree with you. I’m not sure slavery was ever actually enumerated as a right in the Constitution. We have the 3/5 clause and surely that is horrible enough. But, for arguments sake, let’s just imagine that slavery was actually enshrined in the Bill of Rights. What would that mean?

      To people who look to the Constitution to define or confer their rights they would then have an awful problem.

      From my point of view it would mean nothing other than the framers of the Constitution made a profound error. But in that I’m not worried because I don’t consult the US Constitution as the final arbiter of my natural rights.

      If a right is listed in the Constitution it does not mean I have that right. If a right is omitted from the Constitution it does not mean I don’t have that right. My rights come before the Constitution and those who wrote it.

  12. “To people who look to the Constitution to define or confer their rights they would then have an awful problem.”

    I’m not a legal scholar, so I might be misappropriating words, but I would distinguish between a legal right and a legitimate right.

    A citizen of some state might have a legal right conferred even though it is not a legitimate right. Under shariah, a Muslim has the legal right conferred by law to marry up to five women. Now, I think that’s illegitimate, but I’d have to admit that it is legal under shariah. A legitimate right would be a natural right or a right derived from a natural right.

    But perhaps this is a place to stop. We seem to largely agree. Thanks for making me think.

    Jeffery Hodges

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