Phew! Deep Linguistic Research Confirms Scalia’s Heller Interpretation of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms

Man With Magnifying Glass


Finally! Proof positive that the right to keep and bear arms as described in the Second Amendment is, in fact, an individual right.

[I]t is not enough to consider keep and bear arms in a vacuum. The Second Amendment’s operative clause refers to “the right of the people.” We conducted another search in [Corpus of Founding Era American English] for documents that referenced arms in the context of rights.

About 40 percent of the results had a militia sense, about 25 percent used an individual sense, and about 30 percent referred to both militia and individual senses. The remainder were ambiguous.

With respect to rights, there was not a dominant sense for keeping and bearing arms. Here, too, an “ordinary citizen” at the time of the founding likely would have understood that the phrase arms, in the context of rights, referred to both militia-based and individual rights.

Based on these findings, we are more convinced by Scalia’s [Heller] majority opinion than Stevens’s dissent, even though they both made errors in their analysis. Furthermore, linguistic analysis formed only a small part of Scalia’s originalist opus. And the bulk of that historical analysis, based on the history of the common-law right to own a firearm, is undisturbed by our new findings.

– James C. Phillips and Josh Blackman in The Mysterious Meaning of the Second Amendment


  1. avatar Fred says:

    “Arms” includes ammunition in original interpretation. It was just understood without the components to fire these were just war clubs.

    1. avatar Hush says:

      Of course, just like you don’t buy a car and then ask permission to buy gas or maintain it! It is a given that automobiles need petrol and guns require ammunition.

      1. avatar Rattlerjake says:

        What is interesting is how we fight tooth and nail for one right but completely ignore violations of other rights. Why is it that government has been allowed to blatantly violate our right to travel and even force us to register personal property, our vehicles. The SCOTUS, many years ago upheld that the states do NOT have the right to force citizens to have a Driver’s License for personal travel, nor do they have a right to force title/registration of said vehicle. The Constitution only allows for regulation of commerce. And why is it that we continue to allow the US government and several of the states to tax our income when the SCOTUS established that the income tax is unconstitutional? The false ratification of the 16th amendment is equivalent to the false vetting of Buttcrack Obama — it’s nothing but fraud!!!

  2. avatar TFred says:

    As they say, “If you control the language, you control the masses.”

    That is exactly what this is about.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      That quote is attributed to George Orwell.

    2. avatar Rick the Bear says:

      That was my thought as well. I’ve only skimmed the piece so far, but what I see is mental masturbation.

  3. avatar Hankus says:

    This myopic approach is just another jab at the individual right. All one has to do in order to find the true meaning of the 2A is to read the Federalist Papers.


    Every other mention of “the people” refers to an individual right.


    1. avatar Paul says:

      I’ll second that, Hankus. There exists a large body of writing, in which the founding fathers explained their intent, not only in regard to the Second, but to all the rest of their decisions. Thomas Jefferson in particular repeatedly makes clear that 2A applies to everyone. The militia didn’t NEED any special right to bear arms spelled out – without arms, a militia isn’t even a militia. It is the people’s right to bear arms that was enumerated with the Second. It takes some horrifying mental gymnastics to twist 2A into some kind of military statement.

  4. avatar TFred says:

    This was also covered in a recent post on “The Volokh Conspiracy” blog:

  5. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    This is the stoopidest argument. If the right to keep and bear arms were a collective right it would be enumerated among the powers granted the federal government in the Constitution, not among the individual rights protected under the Bill of Rights. You’re either stupid or a liar if you can’t figure that out.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Also, if it were a power granted to the states and denied to the federal government it would have been the 9th Amendment, not the 2nd.

  6. avatar MeLuv Furburger says:

    No doubt. I mean, you’re painfully stupid and even you managed to figure it out.

  7. avatar American Patriot says:

    Seems to me after the 2nd Amd. was ratified did individual people own & carry arms? That would answer if self, the west wasn’t won with a bitch fight!

  8. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    2 +2=4 And the Left really hate it.

  9. avatar GS650G says:

    Too bad the left reads it differently and uses legal power to run with it.

  10. avatar SurfGW says:

    Heller is a hidden anti-gun ruling. “Common use” is not well defined and can be justify anti-handgun regulation in areas where concealed carry is rare or assault weapons bans because they are not “commonly used”. Heller makes the government responsible for regulating firearms which actually justifies the opinions of regulators (not legislators).
    Don’t open up a can of worms if you don’t know what is inside.

    1. avatar Hugh Glass says:

      Worms are inside. Hence, “can of worms.”

  11. avatar M1Lou says:

    Let’s help them out even further.

    “Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an Americans.” ~ Tench Coxe 1788

  12. The only thing that destroys the 2nd Amendment and eliminates other protections…Is “Red Flag Laws…”

    1. avatar UpInArms says:

      Oh, I think the destruction is being wrought by a whole lot more than just red flag laws.

  13. avatar anarchyst says:

    Amy time the word “people” is mentioned in the “Bill of Rights” it is an individual right. PERIOD!

  14. avatar Richard Steven Hack says:

    There is a book called “To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant’s Face”, which is a history of the militia in the US – all the discussion over the 2nd Amendment by the Federalists and Anti-Federalists is discussed, as well as most major cases where a “militia” has been formed.

    I recommend reading this book. There was considerable discussion by the people who drafted the Bill of Rights, and there were different drafts that either emphasized the individual right to own and carry firearms and some that emphasized the militia right. The book comes down on the latter. But it’s clear that just about everyone at that time could not conceive of a US where the majority of people did *not* “keep and bear arms.”

    It’s only today that we have a society of pussies.

    To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant’s Face: Libertarian Political Violence and the Origins of the Militia Movement Paperback – January 24, 2011

  15. avatar FormerParatrooper says:

    When someone tell me the 2A only applies to the Militia, I ask what sense does it make to state that a militia or any other military force has a right to be armed?

    The answers are generally stutters, you are a racists, and you are not educated enough to understand English.

    1. avatar James Campbell says:

      Consider yourself lucky. In some places the socialist chimps throw their poop when faced with logic.

      1. avatar FormerParatrooper says:

        Biological warfare would be met with the minimal force necessary to stop the feces production of the socialist who would do so.

  16. avatar Dan says:

    The gun grabbing commie left isn’t interested in PROOF. They aren’t interested in facts, logic or reason either.
    ALL THEY WANT is power. Gaining and increasing power REQUIRES that we their intended slaves be disarmed. Therefore they will do whatever it takes to disarm us. Laws, rights, logic or reality are irrelevant to them and their agenda.

  17. avatar possum says:

    It would be interesting to see a debate with today’s gunm control advocates and the founding fathers.

    1. avatar James Campbell says:

      So, just how many POSSUM are there on TTAG?
      This is a “non-sig pic” possum, and I’ve seen two others “with Sig pics”.
      This “possum post” in NO way reflects the typical content of the others.

  18. avatar Gman says:

    Heller is bullshit written by bullshitters. Scalia was a bullshitter as are most judges. The Bill of Rights is not a restraint upon the People in any way. It is a restraint upon government only. Rights are absolute by definition otherwise, if they can be limited by government, they would be privileges. The only Constitutionally permissible laws do not restrict your ability to exercise rights, they punish your use of those rights to harm others.

  19. avatar K2 says:

    The phrase, “the Right of the People” is in the Constitution 3 times. In the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Amendments. Being these Amendments were adopted at the same time, it’s unlikely they had different meanings. Additionally, the original version of the 2nd Amendment proposed by James Madison began, “The Right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It’s clear the 2nd Amendment is an individual right. It seems the idea that the 2nd Amendment is a collective right comes from the ACLU.

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