The Second Amendment is Killing Us
Latest school shooting reminds us the importance of basic English grammar and the U.S. Supreme Court's (deliberate?) failure to understand how grammar works.
First off, I can’t imagine the pain families are dealing with in Uvalde, Texas. Losing your children to senseless gun violence is heart wrenching and horrible.
I wish I could say this incident will jump start our country into action. But it likely won’t. All because the U.S. Supreme Court failed an English grammar analysis that every American 7th and 8th grader would pass.
I have to be honest. When I served in the Ohio House of Representatives, I always received top ratings from the National Rifle Association and Buckeye Firearms Association. I represented an area of the state where hunting and gun culture were prevalent. And, frankly, I thought that the Second Amendment would always be read correctly by the U.S. Supreme Court because I believed that the justices actually understood English.
In fact, they do not (more likely didn’t want to, but I digress).
In the landmark Heller case, Justice Scalia wrote that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms on every American. Yet he completely screws up the actual grammatical construction of the amendment — weird given how Scalia always laid claim to being an “originalist”.
Anyway, here’s the Amendment in its entirety:
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.
In middle school, we learn (or at least did when I was in school) that a sentence’s subordinate clause modifies the main clause to add meaning to it.
The Second Amendment is no different.
I’m going to give you some examples of similarly constructed sentences. And I guarantee you won’t have any doubts about their meanings.
Hunger being necessary for living, I shall go to Cane’s for lunch.
Water being necessary for plants to live, I shall pour a quart of water on them every day.
Work being necessary for the accumulation of wealth, the people’s right to purchase transportation shall not be infringed.
In each of these sentences (which sound forced because the Framers were writing in the 18th Century, so I tried to imitate), it’s pretty clear that I’m going to Cane’s for lunch to stave off hunger, pouring water on my plants to keep them alive and buying a car for work.
So why is it so difficult to understand that the Second Amendment’s subordinate clause (militia) modifies the independent clause’s (can’t infringe the right to bear arms) meaning?
More than 50 years of effective NRA/Gun Industry lobbying. It’s really that simple.
Here’s how the justices reasoned it’s cool to not let the Second Amendment’s subordinate clause act completely differently than every other subordinate clause in the English language. The subordinate clause just announces “a purpose”. It does nothing to modify the main clause.
Even though that’s the exact definition of a subordinate clause:
"a clause that modifies the principal clause or some part of it”
Scalia claims that it does nothing to the independent clause. Not. A. Thing.
Because if it did, then your right to have firearms would be restricted to your need to keep a militia around in case the Redcoats showed up again or something.
As one really detailed grammatical analysis of the Amendment put it:
“Interpreting the main clause while ignoring the being-clause would be nonsensical, and certainly contrary to the original intent or understanding of the two clauses.”
Yet that’s exactly what Scalia did.
Can you say that the Second Amendment has led to incidents like what happened at Robb Elementary School yesterday?
Well, it is the reason we haven’t even tried to more closely regulate firearms in this country, especially since Heller.
It is also true that none of the world’s other high-income countries have a Second Amendment or a rate of firearm deaths anywhere close to ours, according to data compiled at the University of Washington.
And now that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the right to carry firearms an individual right, eschewing English grammar entirely, I hold little hope any of the laws governing firearms will change.
But expect a lot of talk about arming teachers — generally not a good idea given how little training most teachers have with firearms. Never mind that yesterday’s shooting occurred in Texas — our country’s best-armed state.
Second Amendment worshippers already have argued the answer is more guns, not fewer. I fail to understand how having a bunch of scared, panicky, lightly trained gunfighters shooting guns off inside a school will make kids safer.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court deliberately misunderstood English grammar rules, it looks like the most we’ll be able to hope for is background checks and putting more guns in the hands of teachers, who may accidentally shoot a kid rather than the actual school shooter.
Bottom line: Don’t ever let anyone tell you that English class isn’t important. For now grammar can literally be a life and death proposition.