On Commas and Guns

Usually with guns we find ourselves discussing comas, but here I am talking commas. We’ve done this before, parsed the second amendment to make sense of a rather perplexing semantic puzzle left to us by James Madison, and with tremendous impact in the Heller case of 1979; but let’s try again, neurodivergently this time.

First, since every sentence begins with a subject, let’s have our subject: “A well regulated Militia,”.

Now let’s explain ourselves as if our reasoning were already well known: “being necessary to the security of a free State,”.

But what was our subject again? Ah, yes: the well-regulated militia. But what is a militia if not a collective of individuals with specific training and a common purpose in a well-regulated fashion? So let’s clarify that this is what we mean by a militia. But it’s early days for American English, so despite my intent, I’ll obscure the meaning of this appositive explanatory noun clause with a leading abstraction and say: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,”.

Alright, let’s cap it off: “shall not be infringed.”

The sentence, at its most basic level, subject and predicate, is simple: ‘A well regulated militia shall not be infringed.’ The rest is explanatory, the kind of padding typical in neurodivergent conversations. And as often happens, to this neurodivergent person at least, an original point is often obscured by the clauses and longer thoughts added in between subject and predicate.

I’d say it is fairly clear that Madison’s point has been obscured here by his additional clauses. Simply put: there is a right to a well-regulated militia. Meaning, we have the right to join such a militia and to participate as full defenders in such militia-like capacities as warranted according to regulations. Meaning ultimately, we as a single people (not individuals, but as a community) have the right to enjoy the benefits of a secure “free state.” As a part of participation in a militia, one is entitled, in fact obviously will be required, to “keep and bear Arms.” Again, this is necessary in the interests of “a free State.”

It is thus not individuals who are to benefit but the state overall, that federal system so despised by gun-toting anti-government folks. Yet guns are only exempt from prohibition “for the security of a free State,” so that in point of fact one is only entitled to possess a gun without state-infringement in the defense of the state apparatus itself.

Nowhere does Madison declare that unregulated access to assault weapons of mass destruction must be a right of every individual as individuals. In fact he says that this right is only a right to individuals as a group. Because after all, the point of this country comes down to three individual and corporate rights: the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to the pursuit of happiness.

How many people are deprived of their first founding right every day by gun violence? And who can enjoy liberty when the liberty of even buying one’s own groceries may turn out to have been a death sentence? And who could ever be capable of happiness when so many human beings and so many children are murdered every day in this country—to say nothing of all of those slaughtered with our weaponry in Mexico and Canada and elsewhere around the world?

See also Three Further Notes on the Second Amendment and How to Learn Under Threat

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