Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Right To Bare Arms

What makes our country great?   Is it...

the constitution our forefathers wrote?   our unified belief in the American dream?   our melting pot heritage that proves our differences are really our strength?

Practically no one could disagree with any of those (as long as the great American mosaic is defined as "melting pot").       Obviously, Denny's (video below) agrees.       But according to the restaurant chain which offers Americans everywhere the worst food anywhere, there is something additional which makes our country great:      "our right to bear arms."

Conflating gun ownership, the Constitution, the American dream, and the (mythical) melting pot with its menu, Denny's deserves an A in public relations... and an F in grammar.   The Second Amendment, as composed by comma-friendly James Madison, reads

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.

"The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed" is an independent clause.      "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" is an absolute phrase, which may be defined as "a group of words that modifies an independent clause as a whole."     After submitting an amicus brief in favor of the gun law ultimately struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller,  Dennis Baron explained

... if the framers had wanted to secure an individual right to gun ownership, they would have written, “Private possession of arms being necessary to individual freedom” or even, simply, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” without any conditioning absolute at all. It is worth pointing out, too, that the Second Amendment is the only one with a conditioning causal phrase, a fact which suggests that the absolute is important, not just decorative.

Baron notes the a grammarian who in 1985 gave as an example of an absolute phrase "Being a farmer, he is suspicious of all governmental interference. [‘Since he is a farmer, . . .’ ]"   The right to keep and bear arms (which arguably refers to a collective, rather than individual,  right) was based on a well regulated militia- no longer in effect- being necessary to the security of a free state.   In the Federalist Papers, Madison contrasted the militia with that of a standing army, with the former

amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.

If Denny's is looking for a right that makes our country great (or would make it greater), it might consider the right to adequate health care, individuals communicating with each other without government surveillance, clean air and water, or reproductive freedom.   But that, of course, would be political.

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