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Thread: Constitutional Commas Have Meaning--Maybe

  1. #1
    State Researcher HankT's Avatar
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    Damn. Thewhole shooting match mayget decidedon a comma...




    Can commas shoot down gun control?

    A grammarian takes issue with a court decision that picks apart clauses of the 2nd Amendment.
    (eta bold to article title)

    By Dennis Baron, DENNIS BARON is a professor of English at the University of Illinois.
    March 22, 2007

    CITING THE second comma of the 2nd Amendment, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled March 9 that district residents may keep guns ready to shoot in their homes.

    Plaintiffs in Shelly Parker et al vs. District of Columbia were challenging laws that strictly limited who could own handguns and how they must be stored. This is the first time a federal appeals court used the 2nd Amendment to strike down a gun law, and legal experts say the issue could wind up in the Supreme Court.

    While the D.C. Circuit Court focused only on the second comma, the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution actually has three: "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." The 2-1 majority of judges held that the meaning turns on the second comma, which "divides the Amendment into two clauses; the first is prefatory, and the second operative."

    The court dismissed the prefatory clause about militias as not central to the amendment and concluded that the operative clause prevents the government from interfering with an individual's right to tote a gun. Needless to say, the National Rifle Assn. is very happy with this interpretation. But I dissent. Strict constructionists, such as the majority on the appeals court, might do better to interpret the 2nd Amendment based not on what they learned about commas in college but on what the framers actually thought about commas in the 18th century.

    The most popular grammars in the framers' day were written by Robert Lowth (1762) and Lindley Murray (1795). Though both are concerned with correcting writing mistakes, neither dwells much on punctuation. Lowth calls punctuation "imperfect," with few precise rules and many exceptions. Murray adds that commas signal a pause for breath. Here's an example of such a pause, from the Constitution: "The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court" (Article III, Section 1). But times change. If a student put that comma in a paper today, it would be marked wrong.

    The first comma in the 2nd Amendment signals a pause. At first glance, it looks like it's setting off a phrase in apposition, but by the time you get to the second comma, even if you don't know what a phrase in apposition is, you realize that it doesn't do that. That second comma identifies what grammarians call an absolute clause, which modifies the entire subsequent clause. Murray gave this example: "His father dying, he succeeded to the estate." With such absolute constructions, the second clause follows logically from the first.

    So, the 2nd Amendment's second comma tells us that the subsequent clauses, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," are the logical result of what preceded the comma: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State." The third comma, the one after "Arms," just signals a pause. But the justices repeatedly dropped that final comma altogether when quoting the 2nd Amendment — not wise if you're arguing that commas are vital to meaning.

    But that's just my interpretation. As the D.C. Circuit Court decision shows us, punctuation doesn't make meaning, people do. And until a higher court says otherwise, people who swear by punctuation will hold onto their commas until they're pried from their cold, dead hands.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/printedi...&cset=true


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    I wish i remember where i saw it, but someone posted a professional linguistic analisis of the second amendment, to be used as expert testamony in court as needed. The written conclusion preaty much stated the same thing as this news report

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    Some people tend to use the first part of the Second Amendment, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,...", as a way to limit gun ownership to the military.

    Of this section the second half is fairly clear "...being necessary to the security of a free State,..." means the US and the individual states need to be secure and a militia is necessary.

    The first half, "A well regulated Militia,..." is the part they want to debate. The main part of the debate on these words hinges on 2 things. What is a "militia" and what does "well regulated" actually mean"

    First, what is a milita?

    Webter's Dictionary defines a militia as; "The whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service."

    The US Contitution defines a militia in the Militia Act of 1792 as; "Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act."

    Some contend that the National Guard is a militia. However, the United States National Guard, created by the Militia Act of 1903, was a federalized portion of the State militias which were converted into regular troops kept in reserve for the United States Army. The fact that they are both federalized and regular troops makes them a part of the standing army and no longer a part of the militia.

    Also, according to Title 10, USC, Section 311, all able bodied males between the ages of 17 and 45 not serving in the armed forces or state National Guard units are considered the unorganized militia, as well as all commissioned female officers of state National Guard units.

    James Madison wrote;

    The highest number to which a standing army can be carried in any country does not exceed one hundredth part of the souls, or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This portion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Besides the advantage of being armed, it forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. The governments of Europe are afraid to trust the people with arms. If they did, the people would surely shake off the yoke of tyranny, as America did. Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors."- (Source I Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789)

    Trench Coxe wrote this about the Second Amenment;

    The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American ...the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.
    The militia, who are in fact the effective part of the people at large, will render many troops quite unnecessary. They will form a powerful check upon the regular troops, and will generally be sufficient to over-awe them.
    Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.

    Lastly, what does well regulated mean?

    Central to the complete concept of "militia" as used by the American Founders in the second amendment of the Constitution was that it be "well-regulated", which meant well-trained and well-organized, but not necessarily by government. Thus, the term would not have been properly used to refer to an armed, unruly mob, but only to persons who behave in a responsible, law-enforcing mode, and who might act to control an armed, unruly mob as an "insurrection".

    If you consider all of this, the first part of the Second Amenment, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,..." is nothing more than one reason for the second part, "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

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    Regular Member Kelly J's Avatar
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    gsh341, When I first started reading your post I was not sure from which side you were on, then it became clear to me where you were headed and calmed down, to the point that I can say well done, both in format and substance.

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    HankT wrote:
    Damn. Thewhole shooting match mayget decidedon a comma...

    Can commas shoot down gun control?
    Its just one of many ways of persuading people to go along with you. You could hang it on a comma, you could hang it on scholarship, you could hang it on logic, youcould justflat out be eloquent. Whateverone thinks will persuade the target audience.
    I'll make you an offer: I will argue and fight for all of your rights, if you will do the same for me. That is the only way freedom can work. We have to respect all rights, all the time--and strive to win the rights of the other guy as much as for ourselves.

    If I am equal to another, how can I legitimately govern him without his express individual consent?

    There is no human being on earth I hate so much I would actually vote to inflict government upon him.

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    Thanks, Kelly.

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    State Researcher HankT's Avatar
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    Citizen wrote:
    HankT wrote:
    Damn. Thewhole shooting match mayget decidedon a comma...
    Its just one of many ways of persuading people to go along with you. You could hang it on a comma, you could hang it on scholarship, you could hang it on logic, youcould justflat out be eloquent. Whateverone thinks will persuade the target audience.
    In this case, it's one of the ways of recording a specific intention of a right that would be clearly applied for the life of the constitution.

    It's a way of recording meaning so that it could be remembered and applied.

    The interpretation of the comma(s) and the words is all about what you suggest. But the words and the comma(s) had to have intrinsic meaning. The question is and has been: What is it?

    9 Supreme Court justices may get to decide what2A meant and what it said/says. In many ways, we are better off if it nevergets to be heard by SCOTUS.

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    Brigdh wrote:
    I wish i remember where i saw it, but someone posted a professional linguistic analisis of the second amendment, to be used as expert testamony in court as needed. The written conclusion preaty much stated the same thing as this news report
    This is the full text of it. (Its LOOOOONG) I saved it for just this reason

    Erus

    The Unabridged Second Amendment

    By J. Neil Schulman
    reprinted from the Sept. 13, 1991 issue of The New Gun Week.

    If you wanted to know all about the Big Bang, you’d ring up Carl Sagan, right? And if you wanted to know about desert warfare, the man to call would be Norman Schwarzkopf, no question about it. But who would you call if you wanted the top expert on American usage, to tell you the meaning of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution?

    That was the question I asked A.C. Brocki, editorial coordinator of the Los Angeles Unified School District and formerly senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Publishers—who himself had been recommended to me as the foremost expert on English usage in the Los Angeles school system. Mr. Brocki told me to get in touch with Roy Copperud, a retired professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and the author of American Usage and Style: The Consensus.

    A little research lent support to Brocki’s opinion of Professor Copperud’s expertise.

    Roy Copperud was a newspaper writer on major dailies for over three decades before embarking on a distinguished 17-year career teaching journalism at USC. Since 1952, Copperud has been writing a column dealing with the professional aspects of journalism for Editor and Publisher, a weekly magazine focusing on the journalism field.

    He’s on the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and Merriam Webster’s Usage Dictionary frequently cites him as an expert. Copperud’s fifth book on usage, American Usage and Style: The Consensus, has been in continuous print from Van Nostrand Reinhold since 1981, and is the winner of the Association of American Publisher’s Humanities Award.

    That sounds like an expert to me.

    After a brief telephone call to Professor Copperud in which I introduced myself but did not give him any indication of why I was interested, I sent the following letter:

    “I am writing you to ask you for your professional opinion as an expert in English usage, to analyze the text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and extract the intent from the text.

    “The text of the Second Amendment is, ‘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.’

    “The debate over this amendment has been whether the first part of the sentence, ‘A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,’ is a restrictive clause or a subordinate clause, with respect to the independent clause containing the subject of the sentence, ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’

    “I would request that your analysis of this sentence not take into consideration issues of political impact or public policy, but be restricted entirely to a linguistic analysis of its meaning and intent. Further, since your professional analysis will likely become part of litigation regarding the consequences of the Second Amendment, I ask that whatever analysis you make be a professional opinion that you would be willing to stand behind with your reputation, and even be willing to testify under oath to support, if necessary.”

    My letter framed several questions about the text of the Second Amendment, then concluded:

    “I realize that I am asking you to take on a major responsibility and task with this letter. I am doing so because, as a citizen, I believe it is vitally important to extract the actual meaning of the Second Amendment. While I ask that your analysis not be affected by the political importance of its results, I ask that you do this because of that importance.”

    After several more letters and phone calls, in which we discussed terms for his doing such an analysis, but in which we never discussed either of our opinions regarding the Second Amendment, gun control, or any other political subject, Professor Copperud sent me the following analysis (into which I have inserted my questions for the sake of clarity):

    [Copperud] “The words ‘A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,’ contrary to the interpretation cited in your letter of July 26, 1991, constitutes a present participle, rather than a clause. It is used as an adjective, modifying ‘militia,’ which is followed by the main clause of the sentence (subject ‘the right,’ verb ‘shall’). The right to keep and bear arms is asserted as essential for maintaining a militia.

    “In reply to your numbered questions:

    [Schulman] “(1) Can the sentence be interpreted to grant the right to keep and bear arms solely to ‘a well-regulated militia’?”

    [Copperud] “(1) The sentence does not restrict the right to keep and bear arms, nor does it state or imply possession of the right elsewhere or by others than the people; it simply makes a positive statement with respect to a right of the people.”

    [Schulman] “(2) Is ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms’ granted by the words of the Second Amendment, or does the Second Amendment assume a pre-existing right of the people to keep and bear arms, and merely state that such right ‘shall not be infringed’?”

    [Copperud] “(2) The right is not granted by the amendment; its existence is assumed. The thrust of the sentence is that the right shall be preserved inviolate for the sake of ensuring a militia.”

    [Schulman] “(3) Is the right of the people to keep and bear arms conditioned upon whether or not a well regulated militia, is, in fact, necessary to the security of a free State, and if that condition is not existing, is the statement ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed’ null and void?”

    [Copperud] “(3) No such condition is expressed or implied. The right to keep and bear arms is not said by the amendment to depend on the existence of a militia. No condition is stated or implied as to the relation of the right to keep and bear arms and to the necessity of a well-regulated militia as a requisite to the security of a free state. The right to keep and bear arms is deemed unconditional by the entire sentence.”

    [Schulman] “(4) Does the clause ‘A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,’ grant a right to the government to place conditions on the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms,’ or is such right deemed unconditional by the meaning of the entire sentence?”

    [Copperud] “(4) The right is assumed to exist and to be unconditional, as previously stated. It is invoked here specifically for the sake of the militia.”

    [Schulman] “(5) Which of the following does the phrase ‘well-regulated militia’ mean: ‘well-equipped,’ ‘well-organized,’ ‘well-drilled,’ ‘well-educated,’ or ‘subject to regulations of a superior authority’?”

    [Copperud] “(5) The phrase means ‘subject to regulations of a superior authority;’ this accords with the desire of the writers for civilian control over the military.”

    [Schulman] “If at all possible, I would ask you to take into account the changed meanings of words, or usage, since that sentence was written 200 years ago, but not take into account historical interpretations of the intents of the authors, unless those issues can be clearly separated.”

    [Copperud] “To the best of my knowledge, there has been no change in the meaning of words or in usage that would affect the meaning of the amendment. If it were written today, it might be put: ‘Since 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 abridged.’”

    [Schulman] “As a ‘scientific control’ on this analysis, I would also appreciate it if you could compare your analysis of the text of the Second Amendment to the following sentence:

    “‘A well-schooled electorate, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be infringed.’

    My questions for the usage analysis of this sentence would be:

    “(1) Is the grammatical structure and usage of this sentence and the way the words modify each other, identical to the Second Amendment’s sentence?; and

    “(2) Could this sentence be interpreted to restrict ‘the right of the people to keep and read Books’ only to ‘a well-educated electorate’—for example, registered voters with a high-school diploma?”

    [Copperud] “(1) Your ‘scientific control’ sentence precisely parallels the amendment in grammatical structure.

    “(2) There is nothing in your sentence that either indicates or implies the possibility of a restricted interpretation.”

    Professor Copperud had only one additional comment, which he placed in his cover letter: “With well-known human curiosity, I made some speculative efforts to decide how the material might be used, but was unable to reach any conclusion.”




    END QUOTE of linguisitcs professors, comment left by original poster below:


    So now we have been told by one of the top experts on American usage what many knew all along: the Constitution of the United States unconditionally protects the people’s right to keep and bear arms, forbidding all governments formed under the Constitution from abridging that right.

    As I write this, the attempted coup against constitutional government in the Soviet Union has failed, apparently because the will of the people in that part of the world to be free from capricious tyranny is stronger than the old guard’s desire to maintain a monopoly on dictatorial power.

    And here in the United States, elected lawmakers, judges, and appointed officials who are pledged to defend the Constitution of the United States ignore, marginalize, or prevaricate about the Second Amendment routinely. American citizens are put in American prisons for carrying arms, owning arms of forbidden sorts, or failing to satisfy bureaucratic requirements regarding the owning and carrying of firearms—all of which is an abridgement of the unconditional right of the people to keep and bear arms, guaranteed by the Constitution.

    And even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), staunch defender of the rest of the Bill of Rights, stands by and does nothing.

    It seems it is up to those who believe in the right to keep and bear arms to preserve that right. No one else will. No one else can. Will we beg our elected representatives not to take away our rights, and continue regarding them as representing us if they do? Will we continue obeying judges who decide that the Second Amendment doesn’t mean what it says it means but means whatever they say it means in their Orwellian doublespeak?

    Or will we simply keep and bear the arms of our choice, as the Constitution of the United States promises us we can, and pledge that we will defend that promise with our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor?



  9. #9
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    Good post ERUS , I will be printing it out for future debates with antis.

    This is how the ACLU counts to ten.1,*,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 .

  10. #10
    Regular Member Kelly J's Avatar
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    Erus, Thank you for the well timed Information, I only wish I had this information several years ago when we tried to get Concealed Carry here in Missouri the First Time, With your permission I will copy and paste this in other forums I belong to.

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    Hey guys.. Thanks but this is NOT my work. I copied it from a public forum and though I see no reason, because of that fact,we can not re-post it anywhere, I do not sepcifcally have the author's permission.

    I am pretty sure it was given on the forum, by the author.. and it is from a nationally published magazine... but I can not say without doubt for certain that permission was granted. I personally prefer to err on the side of re-posting in it's entirety, keeping the author's name clear and obvious attached to the work, and hope that if he is not happy with us re-posting, he will at least be happy we gave him the AWESOME credit due.



    Other than that, enjoy and spread the word.

    Erus



    I am not the only one.

  12. #12
    Regular Member Kelly J's Avatar
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    Erus wrote:
    Hey guys.. Thanks but this is NOT my work. I copied it from a public forum and though I see no reason, because of that fact,we can not re-post it anywhere, I do not sepcifcally have the author's permission.

    I am pretty sure it was given on the forum, by the author.. and it is from a nationally published magazine... but I can not say without doubt for certain that permission was granted. I personally prefer to err on the side of re-posting in it's entirety, keeping the author's name clear and obvious attached to the work, and hope that if he is not happy with us re-posting, he will at least be happy we gave him the AWESOME credit due.



    Other than that, enjoy and spread the word.

    Erus


    I am not the only one.
    Thanks for the info,I will post it on my other forums as soon as I figure out how to get past the Length Limit.

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    Erus, exactally what I was refering to. Thanks!

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