The U.S. Supreme Court declared twelve years ago that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, but some folks just can’t let go of the idea that the language of the amendment does nothing more than protect the collective right of the people to bear arms in a state militia.
Jim Vanden Bosch is a retired English professor from Michigan, and he’s devoted hours to the arcane subject of “absolute phrases,” particularly the grammar used in those phrases in the 18th and 19th century. He claims that the language of the Second Amendment, as it would have been understood at the time it was written, doesn’t apply to an individual right to own and carry a gun.
“I’m just surprised no one checked Scalia on his grammatical comments in the Heller opinion,” said Vanden Bosch. “There were grammarians involved in the deliberations, but no one was an expert on the absolute phrase.”
Vanden Bosch is that expert. And what he found in his study, using written examples from the era in both Britain and America—including the famous Federalist Papers—is that an absolute phrase using “being” as its key word was in common usage.
“At the time of the writing of the Second Amendment, this type of grammar was typical,” he said. “Understanding this fact should give today’s legislators, courts and voters more courage to insist that interpretations of the amendment should not be wide open.”
Taking the absolute phrase into proper account, the amendment ensures that states could maintain armed militias. It did not comment on an individual’s right to keep any kind of gun in any place at any time.