For a number of years now, I have argued strenuously that the 2nd Amendment does not, in any sense, guarantee that private citizens have a right to own guns in this country. The NRA and most, if not all, gun owners, may disagree with me and the conservative gun-loving Supreme Court may also disagree but such disagreements do not nullify the truth that the only thing the 2nd Amendment guarantees is the right of "a well-regulated militia" to own and use weapons in the defense of the nation.
What follows is a grammatical argument which sustains my position. It was written by Daryl Sneath and appeared in the Huffington Post on August 16, 2016. Sneath is a novelist and self-proclaimed amateur grammarian.
Sneath notes that the most notable of our founders, namely Jefferson, Madison and Thomas Paine, who were directly involved in the construction of our founding documents, were well-educated, very wise men who knew a thing or two about language and they worked to make sure what they wrote was glaringly clear.
Thus, Sneath observes, based on the founding fathers understanding of grammar, it is not the right of every Tom, Dick, and Harriet to own guns which shall not be infringed, but rather the right to keep and bear arms is always predicated on the need for a well-regulated militia to ensure our freedom.
One of those things they knew about is the comma, the only purpose of which is clarity. Doubtless the writers were acutely aware of this grammatical truism (despite their apparent affinity for complex diction) when they drew their collective stylus southward (certainly aware too of that symbolic direction) making the little mark immediately following the phrase the right of the people to keep and bear arms. As such, the subject of the predicate shall not be infringed is clearly not the right of the people. No subject is ever separated from its predicate by a comma alone. Put more plainly, the principal clause (or declaration) of the whole amendment is this: A well regulated militia shall not be infringed. The middle bit modifies the main.
But the ‘right to pack’ contingent continues to unpack the latter half of the amendment such that, for them, it states matter-of-factly the right to keep and bear arms is theirs because The Constitution says so and ain’t nobody gonna say no different no how.
There’s no need for anybody to say any different—the third comma does.
In addition to the subject/predicate issue explained above, the third comma further indicates that the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a noun phrase which functions adverbially on the the participial phrase preceding it which, in turn, modifies the subject A well-regulated militia.
To clarify, the right of the people is only a right when A well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, all of which together is the thing that shall not be infringed.