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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Our good buddy Noah Webster breaks down the 2nd amendment

In Webster's English

Stephen P. Halbrook

Halbrook, an attorney and research fellow at The Independent Institute, Oakland, Calif., is author of "The Founders' Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms."

Anticipating the Supreme Court's expected late June decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which will decide the constitutionality of a D.C. law restricting gun-ownership rights, many analysts have turned to the Founders' writings in an effort to understand the Second Amendment. What analysts need to do -- recognizing that language and word usage change over time -- is turn to America's first dictionary.

The Second Amendment states simply, "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 Supreme Court questioned whether the D.C. statute "violate[d] the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes."

For the answer, turn to Noah Webster.

Known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, Webster believed that popular sovereignty in government must be accompanied by popular usage in language. In "A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language," published in 1806, and "An American Dictionary of the English Language," published in 1828 and adopted by Congress as the American standard, Webster defined all the words in the Second Amendment.

"People" were "the commonality, as distinct from men of rank," and "Right" was "just claim; immunity; privilege." "All men have a right to secure enjoyment of life, personal safety, liberty and property," he wrote.

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