The 2nd Amendment

November 23, 2007

According to Wikipedia, the text of the 2nd amendment has two different versions, which differ in punctuation and capitalization. They are as follows:

V1 “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.”

V2: “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 Supreme Court has recently decided to hear a case on whether DC’s gun laws violate the 2nd amendment, and thus there has been a lot of debate and argument already about what the court may or should find.

What I find interesting is the way that debaters present the amendment. My impression is that people who are pro-gun restrictions tend to go with V1, which uses (what today would be considered) odd punctuation, whereas people who are anti-restrictions will more often use V2, the punctuation of which looks more normal.

The actual words are the same in both versions, of course, but V1 makes the people who wrote it seem unintelligent, or at the very least, points out their lack of modernity. This version also makes the modern reader pause to think or “make sense” of the amendment, so that he or she has to pause to interpret the sentence.

Using V1 makes it easier to argue for a looser, less literal interpretation of the 2nd amendment, as it puts your audience in the frame of mind where they are thinking it is in need of “translation” to make it more modern. Once you have people thinking this, it’s a relatively short leap to argue that the plain text of the amendment should be ignored in favor of a more modern solution of gun control.

So, next time you read an article about the 2nd amendment, watch what version they give you, and see how it’s correlated with the writer’s viewpoint.

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