The 2nd Amendment--major new discovery

The Washington Post reports today on an exciting new discovery--a set of earlier drafts of the 2nd Amendment, in a newly discovered box of James Madison's papers.1

These texts, along with extensive marginalia, indicate that the founding fathers engaged in intensive debates over the exact wording, and that they considered at least ten alternate versions before they settled on the final text. The papers will go on display at the Library of Congress in March 2011.

Legal scholars have only begun to consider what light the papers might shed on the framers' intent, and whether the discovery could have actual legal consequences.

The final version has of course been widely quoted: "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."

Here are the ten alternate wordings--which are listed here in the order in which Madison, Jefferson, et al appear to have considered them.

** A well regulated Militia, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, when the People belong, to a well regulated public Militia.

** A well regulated Militia armed with muskets, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, when the People belong to a public Militia armed with muskets, and whether or not the rules for commas change in future decades.

** The right to carry 9mm semiautomatic handguns (but not necessarily muskets), into schools, bars, churches, and airplanes, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

** The repeated and frequent occurrence of mass shootings, in a society's schools, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.2

** The killing of 13 people in a citizenship class, or of a 17-year-old who egged your car, or of your 5 children, or of a neighbor for having a speed bump installed on your street, or of a person who takes your parking spot, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.2

** The sale of 50 million firearms, after the election of a first black president, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

** A murder-free weekend in L.A., being such a rare event that it makes headlines, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

** The shooting and killing of two innocent people because they want you to move out of their apartment, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.2,3,4

** A gun-related homicide rate that's 10 to 44 times higher than in most other affluent countries, and still 5 times higher than in Canada, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

** The gun-related deaths of 33 people daily, and 214 injuries daily, being necessary to...a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.2


In memory of my brother David (Nov. 17, 1958--Nov. 4, 2000)


1 Harvard historian Jay Silverstein discovered the box amidst a pile of uncatalogued materials in the basement of the NRA's Virginia headquarters. After some effort, he was able to pry it from the director's cold if quite alive hands.

2 With this draft and and several others, the founders proposed to amend the "unalienable rights" section of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men...are endowed...with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life (unless anyone wants to shoot you), Liberty (same condition) and the pursuit of Happiness (unless anyone wants to shoot a person you love)."

3 I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground...
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

4 What made us dream that he could comb grey hair? William Butler Yeats


More by Jenny Price:
AB976 -- and why you should write your senator!
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Previous Native Intelligence story: Lisker Chronicles: Bruce votes for the first time

Next Native Intelligence story: Angeleno Datebook-November 4, 2010

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