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Handgun ban case boils down to a comma?

Will the determination of whether Washington D.C.’s handgun ban violates the Second Amendment come down to the interpretation of a comma?

Among the plethora of amicus briefs filed last week in the pending Supreme Court case of D.C. v. Heller is one from a group of linguistics and English professors, who say that a comma in the wording of the second Amendment proves that the Constitution’s framers intended for the rule to protect the right of militia members  – not non-militia citizens – to bear arms, and therefore the Court of Appeals erred in striking down the law.

According to the 39-page brief, which can be found here on the American Bar Association’s website, the comma in question (the one between “security of a free State” and “the right of the people”) separates an absolute clause from the main clause.

Understand that? Neither do we, but here’s the gist of the professors’ claim: the punctuation in the Second Amendment’s language shows that keeping a well-armed militia was not merely one purpose for the Amendment, it was the purpose for the Amendment. Therefore, the professors argue, banning the possession of handguns for non-militia use is perfectly constitutional and the gun ban should be upheld.


  1. And the copious writings of the founders to support this conclusion is…where exactly?

  2. Do those professor’s actually think it is reasonable to assume that -absent the rationale espoused in the prefatory clause -the right MAY BE infringed ?

    The Linguists claim that the existence of the main clause is due solely to the Framers’ belief that “a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free state”.

    But given the context of a Bill of Rights which includes protections of unenumerated rights (9th amendment) is it even remotely reasonable to assume that a right would not be protected but for a particular belief?

    Governments, dear professors, exist to protect rights.

    Rights do not exist merely to secure government.

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