Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Amendments.

In some ways, James Madison, the author of the Constitution, might be thought of as a proto-blogger. If he were a regular paid author, he would have had an editor, and an editor would have asked him to clean up some of the writing.

Let's look at the Second and Third Amendments, shall we?

Amendment II

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.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

No question about it, Li'l Jimmy Madison had a thing for the commas. Some of these little bastards make the sentences harder to read, not easier. The Second Amendment starts with that dependent phrase cut in half with a comma about the importance of a well regulated militia, and the debate has raged ever since just how important that was. 207 years later, Antonin "Fat Tony" Scalia has decided he's the editor, and the Second Amendment isn't about militias at all. It's guns for everybody! Yay, guns!

The Third Amendment is another three comma slice o' heaven, but much clearer. You can't be forced to take in soldiers unless there's a war, and even then, there will be laws. Ever hear about people complaining about their Third Amendment rights being violated? Nope. Clear writing makes for clear rights.

These two amendments are connected. The First Amendment stands alone as to the kinds of things the government can't do halt people's free expression. The Fourth through Eighth are about what the government can't do to you once you are arrested. Half of the Bill of Rights is about criminal suspects. Imagine that! Amendments Nine and Ten are clean up.

But Amendments II and III together are about the defense of the nation, and how it will be handled. After prevailing in the Revolutionary War, a classic case of asymmetrical warfare where David bests Goliath, the often contentious Founding Fathers were united in these two popularly held views.

1) Militias work.
2) Standing armies are invitations to tyranny.

The new nation saw two major threats to security: the major remaining British colony Canada and the native population. Pretty much everybody knows how the struggle against the native Americans went in the following centuries, but few today can imagine Canada as much of a threat. A quick reading of any account of the War of 1812 will show that they were more than a match for the newly born United States.

Of all the ideas laid out in The Bill of Rights, the two that are most clearly antiquated are that militias are vital and that twenty dollars is a serious amount of money, which is in the middle of the Seventh Amendment. But just to make things clear to Fat Tony Scalia, militias were a very important part of the Second Amendment and the ideas of how to make a just and lasting governmental system at the end of the Eighteenth Century.

It wasn't written to be just about owning guns.


dguzman said...

I get so tired of people citing the Second Amendment as justification for why they should be able to own six rifles, ten handguns, and a muzzle-loader. Militia vs individual rights--two separate issues. This ruling will end up causing a legal shitstorm of cases, further clogging our overburdened courts. *sigh*

When is one of those five reichwing a-holes on the SCOTUS gonna keel over?

Mathman6293 said...

You post was interesting and informative. Thanks for the explanation.

Nan said...

Interesting. The Second Amendment is a great example of what I used to tell students was the sin of "using commas like salt," i.e., just sprinkling them in randomly like seasoning without paying much attention to whether or not they make sense.