Do the Words “Well Regulated” Mean Anything?

See, here’s the problem.

The words “gun control” make the radical gun owners’ heads explode. Despite the fact that the vast majority of gun owners agree with things like background checks and licensing and other controls to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the insane, the radicals see the mere thought of even the slightest bit of regulation as a violation of the Constitution greater than any other.


And this is despite the fact that the Constitutional amendment in question is the only one that uses the words “well regulated.”

Go figure.

The First Amendment clearly says that “Congress shall make no law” concerning freedom of speech and the press and religion and so on. Yet, there are all sorts of regulations on our speech which do not violate the Constitution at all. There are restrictions on the time, place, and manner of the speech (Can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater); there are restrictions on speech that can cause a “clear and present danger” (you can’t incite a riot and then claim as a defense that you were simply exercising your First Amendment rights); there are restrictions on obscenity, military secrets, and laws against libel and slander.

And that amendment doesn’t even carry the words “well regulated.”

So what does that mean in the 2nd amendment? Why would the founders have added those words if they were meaningless?

Some will point out that it says “well regulated militia” and therefore the law only applies to the military. Well, by that definition, only the militia can have guns.

And even so, I wouldn’t object if non-military persons had to follow the same rules as our military when it comes to guns. No one joins the army and is handed a machine gun on the first day. No, first you have to be cleared to even be in the military in the first place to make sure you’re not a felon or insane. Then there is training to go through; there are safety courses; and there are many people overseeing you at first. You know — the same kinds of restrictions many of us feel are reasonable for anyone wanting to own a gun.

I have friends who are gun owners. Not one of them would be prohibited from owning their guns with these restrictions. Yet a few of them seem to think that any restriction is equivalent to “the government taking their guns away.” No, it’s more like the government taking cars away from people who don’t know how to drive, have no license, and/or are criminals or insane.

Sounds nice and “well regulated” to me. No Constitutional problems there. (And, once more, although the radical gun owners always point out the recent Supreme Court decision that says that citizens have the right to own guns, they ignore the parts of the decision that allow for the exact kinds of regulations I’m talking about here.)

10 thoughts on “Do the Words “Well Regulated” Mean Anything?

  1. I guess it comes down to your definition of militia, Mike. The gun owners I have talked to will insist that they are part of a “citizens milita.” Yet they cannot tell me who is in charge of this militia. A militia implies an organization of some sort, yet this citizens militia has none. One owner said, “I am amazed that non-gun people think we could not organize if needed.” I replied that no one is saying they could not organize if needed, but that they are NOT organized now–hence not well-regulated. And it completely ignores human nature–if Person 1 thinks he should be militia leader when the time comes to organize, and Person 2 also thinks HE should be leader, then you have a standoff and who decides? You would have 2 groups of armed people fighting over who gets to be boss at a time when supposedly a quick organization is crucial to defend America against its government. Sounds like a recipe for gang warfare to me.

    Gun owners often point to Switzerland as a country where almost everyone is armed yet has a very low violence by gun rate. There are many reasons for this, but a large one is because every male in Switzerland is required to serve in the militia (remember, Switerland has no standing army), and women may join if they choose. So they all get the training and screening that any military would give, and the ones that don’t make it are then unable to have guns in civilian life. Such intrusion of our givernment in milita affairs would never be tolerated here in the US.

    So no, we don’t have a well-regulated militia here. But gun owners will tell you it is irrelevant, because their definition of militia is different from yours.


  2. I used to have that knee-jerk reaction to the phrase “gun control.” When I was a little military brat, the only people that talked about gun control were the ones who didn’t even want cops to have guns and swore by mythical studies that proved even SWAT would not need guns within 8 months of no guns… But, those people are just like bible thumpers, they talk, but they have nothing to do with the regulation. The the first bill I remember as a child was the five day waiting period. And, somehow, it took debate and people were against the idea. I’ve had to wait longer for Walgreen’s to refill my prescription. I’ve never said out loud at Walgreen’s that I can buy a handgun faster than I can get medication my doctor wants me to take.


  3. I’d also suggest a definition of ‘well regulated’. What was thought of back then, how it applies now and how various sides decide to describe it would probably have very different definitions.


  4. The Militia Act defines two levels of militia: The “Organized Militia” which was the birth of the National Guard; and the “Unorganized Militia” which is comprised of all males 18 to 45 who are not currently members of the armed forces or National Guard.


  5. In DC v Heller, both the Opinion and the Dissent go into extensive historical detail to break down the language of the 2nd Amendment using all applicable contemporary word meanings and links to supporting documents. Even with all that experience and research, they came to opposing conclusions as to whether the Amendment protected and Individual or a Collective right to possess firearms.

    What they both agree on though, was authority to limit the types of weapons protected, and reasonable limits on possession.

    What I have seen personally on both sides of this debate, is quite a bit of historical revision, and cherry picking of facts to confirm whatever viewpoint the debater began with. The Amendment is very loosely written, and does not (IMO) clearly spell out its intent.

    As far as the phrase “well regulated” specifically, the crux of DC v Heller was whether the first clause and the second clause are linked or independent.

    Anyone who says that they are certain one way or another (again IMO) is full if crap.


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