The 2nd Amendment, one of the prizes of our constitution granting us the right to bear arms for the defense of our homes and our nation. This right amended into the supreme law of our land has become quite a matter of contention as of late. With all the mass shootings and gun deaths that statistically rival any and all wars we have ever been through, we have come to question the extent to which we should allow the regulation of firearms and whether or not the Federal or state governments hold or have the power to regulate them at all. I am often confronted by the far right on the definition and meaning of the “well-regulated” clause of the 2nd Amendment as many of them view any such regulations as a violation of their rights, and that includes regulations as simple as background checks. They view such as the government trying to take away their guns and the right to bear arms. They also view the well-regulated clause as not applicable to “The People”. Further still, there are even attempts to redefine the 2nd Amendment to mean what they want it to mean rather than what it actually does. Thus in this article, I have decided to address the “Well-Regulated” clause and what it actually means and how it is actually defined.
When a far-right conservative or any other anti-regulation fanatic cite me the 2nd Amendment to say “A well regulated Militia” only means “To be in good order”. I question their grasp of the English language as they conflate the outcome with the means when defining what “Well-regulated” means. It is as if they woefully ignore the word “regulated” as if it didn’t even exist in that phrase. We all know that “The People” are defined as the militia and are subject to the “Well-regulated Clause”…, so in order to get around this we have dishonest or ignorant people, generally the far-right, trying to redefine “Well-regulated” to mean just the intended result or outcome of the actual definition of “Well-regulated”.. So instead of being put into good order by regulations, rules, or laws, they redefine it to only mean the result or intended outcome, or to mean “to be in good order”. Sneaky bastards indeed, but to be in good order in this context is to be well-regulated, or to be successfully regulated by rules or laws to keep things in “good order”. You would think this would be sufficient enough to dispel their nonsense on the matter, right? Nope, I am then confronted with the argument that the phrase didn’t mean the same thing back in the 1700s and that I am just reading what it means “Today” because I am supposedly a “moron”. Thus, with personal insult for an Ad Hominem, I am told:
“well-regulated didn’t mean the same back in the 1700’s. moron, you reading what regulated means today, not back what forefathers wrote then back in day.”
Yep, that is the new argument these days, and we are morons if we disagree! The anti-intellectualism and the “alternative facts” movement here in America is sadly a real thing most often pushed by far-right extremists or religious groups throughout the country. Everything else is deemed, through woeful confirmation bias, as fake news by these folks. But I am going to ignore the insults and the issue of who professes the false revisionist definition of the well-regulated clause and just finish off by debunking their claim(s) in regards to how that is defined. So let me tackle this argument and the previous one at the same time and just kill two birds with one stone! Now we all know that the 2nd Amendment was ratified in 1791, and therefore the English Dictionaries from 1766 should disagree with me should they had been correct. So let us take a look at Samuel Johnson’s and John Walker’s dictionary among others to compare the contemporary period with today’s definitions and meanings behind the phrase “A Well-regulated militia”:
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary Vol 2, 1766
A. To adjust by rule or method
B. To Direct
A. The Act of regulating
1a : to having been governed or directed according to rule. b(1) : to bring under the control of law or constituted authority.
* John Walker’s Dictionary 1791:
A. To adjust by rule or method
B. To Direct
We can’t really have a well-ordered militia if it is based on whatever rules each individual wants to make up, right? Ok…, so now let me define the phrase “Well-regulated” as I also further cite the Oxford and Collin’s Dictionaries.., just in case we need the very definition of that exact phrase itself:
adjective (well regulated when postpositive)
(of a business, military outfit, routine, etc) controlled or
supervised to conform to rules, regulations, tradition, etc
a well-regulated militia.
The Oxford Dictionary:
a. “Properly governed or directed; (now) especially strictly
controlled by rules or regulations.”
This definition, according to Oxford, goes back to the 16th Century, well before the ratification of the 2nd Amendment. Worse still, I cite the Federalist Paper No.29 as it shows the intention of the founding fathers to have a well-trained and well-regulated militia for which was to be comprised of “The People”. This for which grants the states and federal government regulatory powers:
Federalist Paper No.29:
A: THE power of regulating the militia, and of commanding its services in times of insurrection and invasion are natural incidents to the duties of superintending the common defense, and of watching over the internal peace of the Confederacy.
B. This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union “to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, RESERVING TO THE STATES RESPECTIVELY THE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS, AND THE AUTHORITY OF TRAINING THE MILITIA ACCORDING TO THE DISCIPLINE PRESCRIBED BY CONGRESS.”
C. “The attention of the government ought particularly to be directed to the formation of a select corps of moderate extent, upon such principles as will really fit them for service in case of need. By thus circumscribing the plan, it will be possible to have an excellent body of well-trained militia, ready to take the field whenever the defense of the State shall require it. “
I would argue that this puts to rest the meaning of what a “well-regulated Militia” is. Now whether or not the 2nd Amendment intended to be a collective right or an individual right is still very much still up for debate. Personally, I would argue it to possibly be both a collective and individual right subject to the well-regulated clause. However, if I had to pick which one, I would argue a collective right as the Militia is defined as “The People”. This appears to be more plural in the form of a collective than the latter. Regardless, I still would argue them both subject to the “well-regulated” clause.