Commas and Guns

From the Department of Punctuation Makes a Difference, Darn It!, I thought I would pass along the following item. Does the government have a right to ban individuals from owning guns? Well, in some circles, it all depends on a comma. Yep. A comma.

In a recent New Yorker article entitled “So You Think You Know the Second Amendment?,” Jeffrey Tubin describes some of the controversy surrounding various interpretations of the Second Amendment and its punctuation.

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.

That is, the comma implies a causal relationship between the introductory clause and the independent clause that makes up the rest of the sentence. That interpretation survived until a 2008 Supreme Court decision decided that the opening clause was only “prefatory” rather than “causally linked” to the rest of the sentence. What do you think?
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