LETTER: Amendment's structure reflects its true intent
To the Editor:
I recall a column written by Orlando Sentinel columnist Charlie Reese, published on this very page many years ago. His grammatical explanation to the roots of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States presents an interesting contradiction to the recent attempt to reinterpret this individual right.
He starts with the very words of the Second Amendment: “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.” He notes that it clearly does not say that the right of the states to have militias shall not be infringed.
He identifies the misquoted phrase, “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state,” as a nominative absolute, adding the subject of the sentence is “right.” The verb is “shall be infringed.” Modified by the adverb “not,” thus the main sentence says plainly that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Mr. Reese asks: So what is with the nominative absolute? Does it limit the right to keep and bear arms? No, it merely answers the question, why “the right to keep and bear arms should not be infringed.”
His source, Harper’s English Grammar, has this to say about nominative absolutes: “The nominative absolute is, as a rule, the equivalent of an adverbial clause.” Adverbs modify verbs, other adverbs or adjectives. They do not modify nouns, which in this case is the word “right.”
As a columnist, Mr. Reese states, a modern way of writing might say, “Because a well-trained militia is essential to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
The only modifiers of the noun, “right,” are the phrases “of the people.” Please note it says “people,” not states, not militias, and “to keep and bear arms,” which tells us which right. Contrary to recent comments, "the people" includes every Tom, Dick, Mary and Sally. Furthermore, who has the right to tell us what type of arms we can keep?
As always, I shall remain, in search of our God-given liberties!
Kirk D. Smith