“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.” — U.S. Constitution
Commas don’t confuse people. People confuse people.
Those who stand in violent opposition to gun-law reform often only cite the second half of the 2nd Amendment. Surprising there hasn’t been a lobby to move American Independence back in the calendar two days.
But for those who stand in 1st Amendment favor for said reform have long scratched their collective crania over the omission of the first half. Drawing attention here to the fact that the vast majority (perhaps all) of the three-hundred-plus million guns—spinning on the index fingers of the would-be vigilante protectors of freedom—are not owned and toted by any such well regulated militia is certainly not a first in 2nd Amendment interpretation. Accordingly, dissenters are well-versed in their response: they like to point out (hammer cocked) that a well regulated militia is only the beginning of the amendment and does not exclude or veto (as the pinkos would have it) the validity, the force, and (once and for all) the legal authority of the ending which clearly states that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
But not really.
The results, harrowingly as of late, have not been fair enough. Far from it. The solution? Defenders of the political and amendment right say, “Simple. More guns in the hands of those who know how to use’m.” White-hatted saviors riding in on white horses pshew-pshewing their silver pistols with silver-screen precision and ease, erasing the Godless ne’er-do-wells from the frontier forever.
The security of the state secured.
The right of the (good) people well-regulated.
The core (not the fringe) values of the soaring stars-and-stripes saluted, uninfringed.
’Merica made great again.
Let’s slow down and have a look at those credits for a moment. Among the most notable are Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine, the trio most cited as integral in the drafting of the American Constitution and The Bill of Rights. Safe to say they knew a thing or two about language.
One of those things they knew about is the comma, the only purpose of which is clarity. Doubtless the writers were acutely aware of this grammatical truism (despite their apparent affinity for complex diction) when they drew their collective stylus southward (certainly aware too of that symbolic direction) making the little mark immediately following the phrase the right of the people to keep and bear arms. As such, the subject of the predicate shall not be infringed is clearly not the right of the people. No subject is ever separated from its predicate by a comma alone. Put more plainly, the principal clause (or declaration) of the whole amendment is this: A well regulated militia shall not be infringed. The middle bit modifies the main.
But the ‘right to pack’ contingent continues to unpack the latter half of the amendment such that, for them, it states matter-of-factly the right to keep and bear arms is theirs because The Constitution says so and ain’t nobody gonna say no different no how.
There’s no need for anybody to say any different—the third comma does.
In addition to the subject/predicate issue explained above, the third comma further indicates that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a noun phrase which functions adverbially on the the participial phrase preceding it which, in turn, modifies the subject A well-regulated militia. To clarify, the right of the people is only a right when A well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, all of which together is the thing that shall not be infringed.
Full disclosure: I am not a politician. I am not a constitutional lawyer. I am not even an American. I am, though, one of the many (let’s say hundreds of millions of) free world citizens who fervently believe in the preservation of the very rights and freedoms which render us free to enjoy those rights and freedoms. Fundamental to this preservation is understanding. Fundamental to understanding is attention to detail, no matter how small or insignificant the little mark might seem.