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 Schwarzkopf, no question about it. But who would you call if you wanted
the top expert on American usage, to tell you the meaning of the Second
Amendment to the United States Constitution?
That was the question I asked 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
A little research lent support to Brocki's opinion of Professor Copperud's
Roy Copperud was a newspaper writer on major dailies for over three decades
before embarking on a a distinguished 17-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 Publisher's 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
"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 for 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, if
My letter framed several questions about the test of the Second Amendment,
"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."
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 follow analysis (into which I have
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, constitutes 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 to keep and bear arms is asserted as an essential for maintaining
"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 a 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
[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
[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:] "(6) (If at all possible, I would ask you to take
account the changed meanings of words, or usage, since that sentence was
written 200 years ago, but not take into account historical interpretations of
the intents of the authors, unless those issues can be clearly separated."
[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 tot he 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 infringed.'
"My questions for the usage analysis of this sentence would be,
"(1) Is the grammatical structure and usage of this sentence and the
way the words modify each other, identical to the Second Amendment's sentence?;
"(2) 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:] "(1) Your 'scientific control' sentence precisely
parallels the amendment in grammatical structure.
"(2) 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 any
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 governments
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
And even the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU), staunch defender of the rest of the Bill of Rights, stands by and
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 it means but means whatever they say
it means in their Orwellian doublespeak?
Or will be 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 fortuned, and our sacred honor?
(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.
About the Author
J. Neil Schulman is the award-winning author of novels endorsed by Anthony
Burgess and Nobel-economist Milton Friedman, and writer of the CBS Twilight
Zone episode in which a time-traveling historian prevents the JFK
assassination. He's also the founder and president of SoftServ Publishing, the
first publishing company to distribute "paperless books" via personal
computers and modems.
Most recently, Schulman has founded the Committee to Enforce the Second
Amendment (CESA), through which he intends to see the individual's right to
keep and bear arms recognized as a constitutional protection equal to those
afforded in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth amendments.
J. Neil Schulman may be reached through:
- The SoftServ Paperless Bookstore, 24-hour bbs: 213-827-3160 (up to 9600
- J. Neil Schulman
- PO Box 94, Long
Beach, CA 90801-0094.
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