- Those of us who can read know what it means.
"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.
Enter the modern National Rifle Association. Before the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. had been devoted mostly to non-political issues, like gun safety.
But a coup d'état at the group's annual convention in 1977 brought a group of committed political conservatives to power -- as part of the leading edge of the new, more rightward-leaning Republican Party. (Jill Lepore recounted this history in a recent piece for The New Yorker.)
The new group pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms.
It was an uphill struggle. At first, their views were widely scorned.
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who was no liberal, mocked the individual-rights theory of the amendment as "a fraud."
So You Think You Know the Second Amendment?