Hello, Internet! I’m Rosie, the aforementioned AP Government student. I’m socially liberal and fiscally a bit clueless, but I’m learning. I like history, politics, and English, and I especially like combining them, which is where this little essay on the Second Amendment comes from.
The Second Amendment looks a little bit like this:
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.
My first reaction, when I read the whole thing through the first time in AP Gov class this year, was “What? Is that even a sentence?”. After we got our pocket Constitutions, I would occasionally take it out, read the amendment over again, and attempt to puzzle it out in terms of the English language. It stumped me for over a month. I would read it aloud to myself while doing AP Gov homework, trying to puzzle out the placement of the commas and how to include the first two phrases to make it a grammatically correct sentence. I completely understood why there was so much debate over its meaning, because I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was actually saying.
I don’t think James Madison meant to confuse later generations when he penned the Bill of Rights– the Constitution is full of oddly constructed sentences and extraneous commas, because that was the accepted writing style of the time. Unfortunately, however, because of that somewhat-archaic grammar, the Second Amendment has become a widely debated area. But if you ask me, it doesn’t have to be, and all the problems with the Second Amendment can be solved by turning it into a proper English-language sentence. Which is easier than it sounds: take out two commas, and it turns into this:
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.
I can’t remember exactly why or when I figured that out, but I was pretty ecstatic when I did. All of a sudden, it was grammatically correct!
The first two phrases have been condensed into one clause. That’s the really important part of this alteration. I took the last comma out mostly for reasons of clarity– plus, it keeps the whole thing a little more modern, adding to consistency. Now that we’ve condensed the first two phrases, let’s take a look at the first clause:
A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State
It’s the word “being” that set off the little metaphorical lightbulbs over my head. “Being”, along with “because”, “therefore”, “due to”, and a host of other words, indicates a dependent clause. For example, in the sentence, “I started a blog because I like to write about politics”, the “because” indicates that the starting of the blog is dependent on the speaker’s like for writing about politics.
“Being” serves a similar purpose. It indicates that the second clause, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed, is dependent upon the first one. In other words, the people’s right to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the country’s security.
And, if you ask me, that’s all the controversy over the Second Amendment neatly solved. Never underestimate the power of proper grammar.