Friday, December 29, 2006

Another Second Amendment post

Sir Walter Scott wrote what most consider to be his greatest novel, Redgauntlet, in the year 1824. It was what we would call a work of alternate history today. In it Scott postulated a third Jacobite rising in the year 1765.

Note that the year in which the novel was written and the year in which the novel was set nicely bracket the time of the American War of Independence and the writing of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Note that Walter Scott was a highly educated man, a lawyer by training, and was famed as a novelist for his masterful use of language.

In other words he was a man who could be expected to know the meaning and usage of words in the English language.

Now I draw your attention to this passage:

. . . Jacobites were looked on in society as men who had proved their sincerity by sacrificing their interests to their principles; and in well-regulated companies, it was held a piece of ill-breeding to injure their feelings or ridicule the compromises by which they endeavored to keep themselves abreast of the current of the day.
I have highlighted the phrase which I wish to discuss. Does anyone believe that the "companies" of which Sir Walter is writing refer to social groupings whose speech is subject to some extraordinary level of government control?

Obviously what Walter Scott is referring to is polite company. The message he is clearly imparting is that persons in polite society did not ridicule veterans of the 1745 Jacobite uprising.

Now consider the meaning of the phrase "well regulated" in the context of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution:

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.

It should also be noted that in times past (and times current, from the perspective of the Framers) an army of irregulars (non professional soldiers) could easily wind up posing as great a threat to the lives and property of the land that they were supposed to be defending as an army of foreign invaders.

Of course an army of professional soldiers (a standing army) was a threat to the freedom of a nation (remember what Cromwell's New Model Army was able to do in England, Ireland and Scotland). The Founding Fathers attempted to balance the various needs and threats by entrusting the nation's defense to a small core of professional soldiers (the Continental Army) which would be supplemented by "well regulated militia" which they would lead into battle in the event of invasion or insurrection.

In addition to the meaning of well behaved, well regulated also carried the connotation of well equipped and well trained. This is why many states had laws on their books requiring the population of adult males to own and maintain a musket in good working order along with a supply of powder and shot and to submit to militia call-ups and mandatory drill.

The key to the understanding of the meaning of the language used in the Second Amendment (and it cannot mean anything different today than it meant on the day it was written) was that the "arms" were to be personal infantry weapons of a type in common use by military forces of the day. The "arms" were also to be purchased by, and remain the personal property of, the individual citizen.

Thus it would seem that the Second Amendment was written to protect select-fire military assault rifles and not hunting arms, unless they are set up in such a way as to make them suitable for use by a sniper.