Adam Winkler wrote in September’s “The Secret History of Guns” that the ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment lends credence to both sides of the gun-control debate. In their responses to the article, readers proved Winkler’s point.
Far from being unthinkingly opposed to any “gun control,” the National Rifle Association favors and insists on an implementation of such controls as will deny use or possession of firearms to people who use them for criminal purposes, while advancing and defending the basic human right to own, possess, and use personal firearms as effective means of self-defense—a right ensured (but not created, endowed, or granted) by and through the U.S. Constitution.
Leonard C. Johnson
Adam Winkler is entirely correct that the Second Amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) is “maddeningly ambiguous.”
Our Founding Fathers used a common Latin and Greek grammatical structure—the absolute—in writing this amendment, and this construction is responsible for the ambiguities. The first part of the sentence, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” is the absolute, and hence stands syntactically apart from the main clause.
The difficulty lies in the participle being, whose exact relation to the main clause must grammatically and logically express either (a) cause: because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; (b) time: when a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; (c) condition: if a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; (d) concession: although a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; or (e) attendant circumstance: this is not a possibility here, since a militia is not something that might occur as a circumstance of nature (as in “the weather being cold”).
Possibility (d) makes no sense in the sentence; (e) is excluded because an abstract necessity can’t be the kind of contingent circumstance the construction requires. So it appears that interpretations (a), (b), and (c) would grant a right to bear arms only when there is a need connected causally, temporally, or conditionally to a militia. In the absence of actual militias, a strict interpretation of the amendment would favor the right of the state to control arms.
James A. Arieti
Thompson Professor of Classics
In September, Rob Walker wrote that our gadgets can’t wear out fast enough (“Replacement Therapy”), noting that the makers of iPods, Kindles, and the like are not forcing obsolescence on consumers—instead, this “progress” is something consumers demand.
While the market may give us “exactly what we want,” we would be ill-advised to dismiss the power of the market to shape the desires it so readily satisfies. Mr. Walker writes as if the desire for the latest gadget were natural, and thus in no need of explanation. That some people would happily keep their functioning and functional devices indefinitely ought to encourage exploration into the origins of the “demand” for “progress” defined as the appearance, and subsequent purchase, of one marginally superior device after another.
I suspect we may find that the market, and its marketers, are as adept at the fabrication of desire as they are at the manufacturing of the devices that are the putative objects of desire. The devices, after all, are no longer merely tools; they are badges of status and identity, with which consumers form affective bonds. The fact that obsolescence is now a “demand-side phenomenon” may not indicate the end of supply-side tactics; rather, it may just as easily signal their triumph.
L. M. Sacasas
Winter Park, Fla.
Following @TheOnion and @TheAtlantic is interesting. Especially when you can’t tell which is which by the tweets. #signofthetimes?