December 19, 2012
The Latinate framers of the US constitution employed an ablative absolute in 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.’ An interpreter who favoured regimen would argue that the ablative clause determines the sense of the main clause; hence, the state has the right to maintain an army. Those who favour the absolute, as American courts have done, bracket the militia clause and take the main clause to mean that citizens may own as many firearms as they choose. The difference between constructions amounts to roughly 12,000 murders a year.This, recently quoted at the LRB Blog, appears in the comments thread to this:
For more than a hundred years, the answer was clear, even if the words of the amendment itself were not. The text of the amendment is divided into two clauses and is, as a whole, ungrammatical: “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.” The courts had found that the first part, the “militia clause,” trumped the second part, the “bear arms” clause. In other words, according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.It is yet to appear in the comments thread to this:
[A]bsolute constructions remain part of the grammar of standard written English. Some particular instances remain common enough to be considered cliches: "this being the case", "other things being equal", "all things considered", "that said". It's New-Yorker normal that Jeffrey Toobin is ignorant of elementary grammatical analysis, but it's surprising that his ear for ordinary English usage is so bad, and that he's apparently unaware of the standard legal discussion of the constitutional issue on which he's providing an allegedly expert opinion.Careful, chaps, this might get heated. Oh, wait... no, it won't.