|The following is reprinted from the September 13,
1991 issue of GUN WEEK
THE UNABRIDGED SECOND AMENDMENT
by J. Neil Schulman
If you wanted to know all about the Big Bang, you'd ring up Carl Sagan,
right? And if you wanted to know about desert warfare, the man to call would
be Norman Schwartzkopf, no question about it. But who would you call if you
wanted the top expert on American usage, to tell you the meaning of
theSecond Amendment to the United States Constitution?
That was the question I asked Mr. A.C. Brocki, Editorial Coordinator of
the Los Angeles Unified School District and formerly senior editor at
Houghton Mifflin Publishers -- who himself had been recommended to me as the
foremost expert on English usage in the Los Angeles school system. Mr.
Brocki told me to get in touch with Roy Copperud, a retired professor of
journalism at the University of Southern California and the author of
American Usage and Style: The Consensus. A little research lent support to
Brocki's opinion of Professor Copperud's expertise.
Roy Copperud was a newspaper writer on major dailies for over three
decades before embarking on a distinguished seventeen-year career teaching
journalism at USC. Since 1952, Copperud has been writing a column dealing
with the professional aspects of journalism for Editor and Publisher, a
weekly magazine focusing on the journalism field.
He's on the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and Merriam
Webster's Usage Dictionary frequently cites him as an expert. Copperud's
fifth book on usage, American Usage and Style: The Consensus, has been in
continuous print from Van Nostrand Reinhold since 1981, and is the winner of
the Association of American Publishers' Humanities Award.
That sounds like an expert to me.
After a brief telephone call to Professor Copperud in which I introduced
myself but did \not\ give him any indication of why I was interested, I sent
the following letter:
"July 26, 1991
"Dear Professor Copperud:
"I am writing you to ask you for your professional opinion as an
expert in English usage, to analyze the text of the Second Amendment to the
United States Constitution, and extract the intent from the text.
"The text of the Second Amendment is, '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 debate over this amendment has been whether the first part of the
sentence, "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a
free State," is a restrictive clause or a subordinate clause, with respect
to the independent clause containing the subject of the sentence, "the right
of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
"I would request that your analysis of this sentence not take into
consideration issues of political impact or public policy, but be restricted
entirely to a linguistic analysis of its meaning and intent. Further, since
your professional analysis will likely become part of litigation regarding
the consequences of the Second Amendment, I ask that whatever analysis you
make be a professional opinion that you would be willing to stand behind
with your reputation, and even be willing to testify under oath to support,
My letter framed several questions about the text of the Second
Amendment, then concluded:
"I realize that I am asking you to take on a major responsibility and
task with this letter. I am doing so because, as a citizen, I believe it is
vitally important to extract the actual meaning of the Second Amendment.
While I ask that your analysis not be affected by the political importance
of its results, I ask that you do this because of that importance.
"J. Neil Schulman"
After several more letters and phone calls, in which we discussed terms for
his doing such an analysis, but in which we never discussed either of our
opinions regarding the Second Amendment, gun control, or any other political
subject, Professor Copperud sent me the following analysis (into which I've
inserted my questions for the sake of clarity):
[Copperud:] The words "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to
the security of a free state," contrary to the interpretation cited in your
letter of July 26, 1991, constitute a present participle, rather than a
clause. It is used as an adjective, modifying "militia," which is followed
by the main clause of the sentence (subject "the right," verb "shall"). The
right to keep and bear arms is asserted as essential for maintaining a
In reply to your numbered questions:
[Schulman: (1) Can the sentence be interpreted to grant the right to
keep and bear arms solely to "a well-regulated militia"?;]
[Copperud:] (1) The sentence does not restrict the right to keep
and bear arms, nor does it state or imply possession of the right elsewhere
or by others than the people; it simply makes a positive statement with
respect to a right of the people.
[Schulman: (2) Is "the right of the people to keep and bear arms"
granted by the words of the Second Amendment, or does the Second Amendment
assume a preexisting right of the people to keep and bear arms, and merely
state that such right "shall not be infringed"?;]
[Copperud:] (2) The right is not granted by the amendment; its
existence is assumed. The thrust of the sentence is that the right shall be
preserved inviolate for the sake of ensuring a militia.
[Schulman: (3) Is the right of the people to keep and bear arms
conditioned upon whether or not a well-regulated militia is, in fact,
necessary to the security of a free State, and if that condition is not
existing, is the statement "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,
shall not be infringed" null and void?;]
[Copperud:] (3) No such condition is expressed or implied. The
right to keep and bear arms is not said by the amendment to depend on the
existence of a militia. No condition is stated or implied as to the relation
of the right to keep and bear arms and to the necessity of a well-regulated
militia as requisite to the security of a free state. The right to keep and
bear arms is deemed unconditional by the entire sentence.
[Schulman: (4) Does the clause "A well-regulated Militia, being
necessary to the security of a free State," grant a right to the government
to place conditions on the "right of the people to keep and bear arms," or
is such right deemed unconditional by the meaning of the entire sentence?;]
[Copperud:] (4) The right is assumed to exist and to be
unconditional, as previously stated. It is invoked here specifically for the
sake of the militia.
[Schulman: (5) Which of the following does the phrase "well-regulated
militia" mean: "well-equipped," "well-organized," "well-drilled,"
"well-educated," or "subject to regulations of a superior authority"?]
[Copperud:] (5) The phrase means "subject to regulations of a
superior authority"; this accords with the desire of the writers for
civilian control over the military.
[Schulman: If at all possible, I would ask you to take into account
the changed meanings of words, or usage, since that sentence was written
two-hundred years ago, but not to take into account historical
interpretations of the intents of the authors, unless those issues can be
[Copperud:] To the best of my knowledge, there has been no change
in the meaning of words or in usage that would affect the meaning of the
amendment. If it were written today, it might be put: "Since a
well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the
right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged."
[Schulman: As a "scientific control" on this analysis, I would also
appreciate it if you could compare your analysis of the text of the Second
Amendment to the following sentence,
"A well-schooled electorate, being necessary to the security of a free
State, the right of the people to keep and read Books, shall not be
My questions for the usage analysis of this sentence would be, Is the
grammatical structure and usage of this sentence, and the way the words
modify each other, identical to the Second Amendment's sentence?;
and Could this sentence be interpreted to restrict "the right of the people
to keep and read Books" only to "a well-educated electorate" -- for example,
registered voters with a high-school diploma?]
[Copperud:] Your "scientific control" sentence precisely parallels
the amendment in grammatical structure.
There is nothing in your sentence that either indicates or implies the
possibility of a restricted interpretation.
Professor Copperud had only one additional comment, which he placed in his
cover letter: "With well-known human curiosity, I made some speculative
efforts to decide how the material might be used, but was unable to reach
So now we have been told by one of the top experts on American usage what
many knew all along: the Constitution of the United States unconditionally
protects the people's right to keep and bear arms, forbidding all government
formed under the Constitution from abridging that right.
As I write this, the attempted coup against constitutional government in
the Soviet Union has failed, apparently because the will of the people in
that part of the world to be free from capricious tyranny is stronger than
the old guard's desire to maintain a monopoly on dictatorial power.
And here in the United States, elected lawmakers, judges, and appointed
officials who are pledged to defend the Constitution of the United States
ignore, marginalize, or prevaricate about the Second Amendment routinely.
American citizens are put in American prisons for carrying arms, owning arms
of forbidden sorts, or failing to satisfy bureaucratic requirements
regarding the owning and carrying of firearms -- all of which is an
abridgement of the unconditional right of the people to keep and bear arms,
guaranteed by the Constitution.
And even the ACLU, staunch defender of the rest of the Bill of Rights,
stands by and does nothing.
It seems it is up to those who believe in the right to keep and bear arms
to preserve that right. No one else will. No one else can. Will we beg our
elected representatives not to take away our rights, and continue regarding
them as representing us if they do? Will we continue obeying judges who
decide that the Second Amendment doesn't mean what it says but means
whatever they say it means in their Orwellian doublespeak?
Or will we simply keep and bear the arms of our choice, as the
Constitution of the United States promises us we can, and pledge that we
will defend that promise with our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor?
Copyright (c) 1991 by The New Gun Week and Second
Amendment Foundation. Informational reproduction of the entire article is
hereby authorized provided the author, The New Gun Week and Second Amendment
Foundation are credited.
All other rights reserved.