Sunday, March 14, 2004

Second Amendment Language

I know politicians omit and embellish facts. I know court is not about "the whole truth" but rather only those facts a judge and the lawyers decide to present -- and as they see fit to present them. I know the press is not "truthful" but whatever facts and statements the reporters can squeeze into limited space and time, as influenced by biases. I know texts are never "the truth" nor is my reading of them likely a complete appreciation for what was written.

"A well-regulated militia..." reads the Second Amendment. Does anyone know what "regulated" means? It's not what most people assume it means. "Regular" meant well-prepared, or well-equipped. Hence, a "regular" army is better than a "guard" on-call. Regulated does not mean "governed" in all instances, just as "run" does not always mean something people in track meets do. "Regulated" can mean "well-prepared" or "well-maintained" or even "well-regarded" in eighteenth-century English.

In other words, while one group can insist the constitution applies to a "professional and regulated standing army," another would point to the notion of a "well-equipped temporary brigade." Militia meant "standing army" as often as "temporary corps" in the literature of the time.

So, words mean too many things and result in work for lawyers and linguists, I suppose.

What the Second Amendment "means" to me is shaped as much by my time (now) as it is by my politics. Words change in a living language.

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