Pro-gun people have been making a statement remarkably like this for years:
The phrase “well-regulated militia” had a distinctly different meaning in the 1700s and 1800s. It would translate today as “well-provisioned” or “well-supplied” militia.
I could find absolutely no historical support that “regulated” meant well supplied when the Bill of Rights was written in 1791. Using the dictionary found here, specifically An Universal Etymological English Dictionary by Nathan Bailey (1775), the word regulate means:
- to set in order, to govern, direct, or guide; to frame or square; to determine or decide
Likewise, in A Dictionary of the English language in which the Words are deduced from their Originals, explained in their Different Meanings, by Samuel Johnson (1792) the definition of regulate is:
- To adjust by rule or method; to direct
I cannot find a single reference from that period that suggests the meaning of that the term has anything to do with supplies.
So “well regulated” in terms of a militia would mean a militia that was well governed, directed, or guided. In other words, it was in opposition to an irregular military force, which would be one that was not well directed or guided. Regulation has nothing to do with a force being provisioned or supplied.
Officers in 18th century militaries were generally made up of aristocrats. That was why the colonies were so despised for their tactics of hiding behind trees and rocks where they would target and kill the officers.
This is why I was so impressed with Penn and Teller’s interpretation of the wording of the Second Amendment. The framers of the Constitution were well aware that standing armies could be used as a tool of oppression, where a Federal government could use that Army as a bludgeon to control the states. That is why there were so many safeguards against the Union maintaining an Army.
To counterbalance this, the states had the ability to maintain a militia. It is, as the Amendment points out, necessary to a free state. The problem here is that the state can also use that militia to control the people. So the people maintain the ability to keep and bear arms.
The Army is the power of the Federal government. The militia is the states’ check and balance to that. An armed citizenry is the people’s check and balance to the militia.
That is the genius of Penn and Teller’s position.