Friday, June 27, 2008


To say I am pleased by the Supreme Court's ruling would be an understatement, though 5-4 is a little too close for my tastes.

John Podhoretz has an interesting take:

Scalia the Grammarian - 06.26.2008 - 1:41 PM

"There will be a great deal to say about today’s landmark Supreme Court decision, the first in American history that explicitly finds in the Constitution a personal right to keep and bear arms and overturns a 32-year-old ban on handguns in the District of Columbia. What strikes this non-lawyer, as I read Justice Scalia’s majority opinion, is how anchored it is in the elementary logic of grammar. Because of the odd sentence structure of the Second Amendment — which states, in its entirety, that “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” — those who have opposed the idea of an individual right to keep and bear arms have resorted to fancy linguistic explanations of how its first half is an implicit limit on the right enumerated in the second half. In other words, they argue that the right to keep and bear arms can only be understood in the context of a citizen militia — which is to say, an army composed not of professional or drafted fighters but rather of ordinary citizens who would therefore have to own and house their own weaponry to use in case of war.

In 17 remarkable pages of crystalline logic, Scalia destroys this argument, and in a most novel way — by arguing against the dissenting opinion by Justice Stevens, which follows it. And in a tribute to one of the West’s great logicians, Scalia makes continual and pointed reference to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s examination of the way arguments over the use language can be used to obfuscate rather than enlighten. Alice, our stand-in, is forever seeing through the silliness of the world around her by commenting on how nonsensical it is. So, too, Scalia:

Logic demands that there be a link between the stated purpose and the command. The Second Amendment would be nonsensical if it read, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to petition for redress of grievances shall not be infringed.”

You cannot, in other words, use the words of the first half of the Second Amendment to change the meaning of the second half. The prefatory clause can only clarify what follows it. It cannot logically reverse it. As he says later, about an argument made in part in a brief filed by academic linguists that the Second Amendment allows an individual a gun to serve in a militia and to hunt game but for no other purpose:

A purposive qualifying phrase that contradicts the word or phrase it modifies is unknown this side of the looking glass (except, apparently, in some courses on Linguistics)….[I]f “bear arms” means, as the petitioners and dissent think, the carrying of arms for military purposes, one simply cannot ad “for the purposes of killing game.” The right “to carry arms in the militia for the purpose of killing game” is worthy of the mad hatter.

This is ratiocination of a very, very high order. Scalia once again demonstrates that he is, probably without question, the most distinguished and vibrant public intellectual in the United States.


Linda said...

I wonder how long before newly and legally armed DC gun-toting residents begin shooting politicians and judges.

Country Squire said...


Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

I certainly would not advocate that the citizenry begin shooting judges and politicians. After all, that’s what we have lamp posts for. Besides, have you seen the price of ammunition lately?

Thanks for stopping by!