While the Constitution is in many ways a beautifully written document, the framers deserve no gold stars when it comes to how they phrased 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.
The conflict resolved by the Supreme Court in DC v Heller today arises from the ambiguity created by the frankly flowery language.
In a nutshell: Does the Militia preamble part of the amendment limit the right or not? If it doesn’t, why is it in there? (Because – say the Supremes – it’s basically an example of why it’s necessary not a limitation.)
If it is limited to militias, why does it speak of the ‘right of the people’? Doesn’t that sound like an individual right? (And wouldn’t that lead to an absurd result?)
I’m no gun nut, so let me say this from a strictly legal standpoint: Scalia’s majority decision striking down DC’s ban on handguns is much less tortured than Stevens’ dissent. As usual, he comes off like a jerk, especially when describing the minority position.
But the dissenters have failed to convince me that ‘to keep and bear arms’ doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means.