Gun control advocates of use the “well regulated” phrase in the Second Amendment as a pretext to assert that the government reserves the right to dictate what if any arms its citizens may own and under what conditions they are permitted to acquire, use and dispose of them
By employing textual criticism, this argument can be easily debunked.
Textual criticism involves understanding the words of antique documents in the sense that they were used in the era that the document was authored.
For instance if writer of century ago were to refer to the decade of the 1890s as the “gay ‘90s” or the capital of France as “gay Paris”, we understand that this has nothing to do with same sex relationships. Gay in this sense conveys the notion that this decade and this city were exuberant, happy and high spirited.
In such a fashion, a recent reading of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations shed new light on the Second Amendment for me.
Although Smith was a stout proponent of free markets, he was no anarcho-capitalist. Smith believed that there were legitimate functions for government to undertake. One of these functions was the common defense of the citizenry from foreign invaders.
Defense requires a fighting force and Smith segregates these forces into two broad classes. These are standing armies and militias. Standing armies are professional forces, whose sole profession is fighting and who continually, drill, study and practice the arts of warfare in preparation for battle. Militias by contrast are amateur armies composed of tradesman, merchants, farmers, mechanics, etc, etc. These forces come together only periodically, like our National Guard and Reservists, as their livelihoods depend on the practice of their sundry occupations. They cannot afford much time away to foe martial exercises.
Smith uses the word “regulated” to convey a condition cohesiveness, discipline and preparation for combat on the part a fighting force. In one passage he observes: “Regularity, order, and prompt obedience to command, are qualities which, in modern armies, are of more importance towards determining the fate of battles, than the dexterity and skill of the soldiers in the use of their arms.”
Further on he returns to the concept of “regulated” when he concludes that in, “the history of all ages, it will be found, hears testimony to the irresistible superiority which a well regulated standing army has over a militia.” Thus he contends that a well trained and disciplined (i.e. regulated) army will be superior to a group of rag tag amateurs. Hence we often hear this well trained / disciplined / regulated force referred to as the” Regulars” as opposed to the “Reservists” even to this day.
Now we know that America’s Founders were suspect of large standing military establishment. George Washington writes, “Altho' a large standing Army in time of Peace hath ever been considered dangerous to the liberties of a Country, yet a few Troops, under certain circumstances, are not only safe, but indispensably necessary. Fortunately for us our relative situation requires but few.”
In the same document he lays out his defense proposal for our new nation. The first two points are as follows:
“First. A regular and standing force, for Garrisoning West Point and such other Posts upon our Northern, Western, and Southern Frontiers, as shall be deemed necessary to awe the Indians, protect our Trade, prevent the encroachment of our Neighbours of Canada and the Florida's, and guard us at least from surprizes; Also for security of our Magazines.
Secondly. A well organized Militia; upon a Plan that will pervade all the States, and introduce similarity in their Establishment Manoeuvres, Exercise and Arms.”
Thus he uses the word “regular” to describe well trained and disciplined forces in paragraph one. In paragraph two Washington employs the phrase “well organized” as a synonym for “well regulated”.
Thus when we read the Second Amendment that “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” it could just as easily read “A well trained, ordered and disciplined militia, being necessary to the security of a free state”. That makes complete sense. An untrained, undisciplined and disorganized force won’t do much good.
Hence the second clause, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” clearly means what it says. It states with unqualified certainty that no governmental entity, be it federal, state or local, has the right to prohibit law abiding citizens from procuring, keeping, using and trading weapons for self defense or any other peaceful purpose.