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.

Categories: Government


oldvet50 · August 6, 2023 at 4:44 pm

I believe I have made this comment before, but in 1964 while taking US History in 8th grade in a public school, the teacher said that the second amendment was put in place to keep weapons of war in the hands of the citizens. In this way, they could become proficient in their use so when an army was needed (there was no standing army in those days), one could be formed quickly and be ‘well regulated’ without time consuming training. I used to think everyone knew this. See what happens when liberals take over the education of our children?

JaimeInTexas · August 6, 2023 at 4:47 pm

My understanding is that “well regulated” means “good working order”.

    Divemedic · August 6, 2023 at 6:08 pm

    Not according to the dictionaries of the time, as I have provided sources for.

Burnt Toast · August 6, 2023 at 7:02 pm

Prompted by the last post I went looking for some Federalist Paper which I thought was quite clear what was meant by ‘milita’ and ‘keep and bear’ in the 2nd.
Did find the following,
“Of the different grounds which have been taken in opposition to the plan of the convention, there is none that was so little to have been expected, or is so untenable in itself, as the one from which this particular provision has been attacked. If a well-regulated militia be the most natural defense of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security.”
“To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss.”
Both the above are are lifted w/o context from Federalist No. 29 “Concerning the Militia” (Alexander Hamilton)

The first sentence caught my attention because some commentators say little is written about the 2nd because the issues involved were commonly known and not controversial at the time – Standing armies bad, state/local part time militias good, everyone has the right to arms.

The second two sentences both show that “well-regulated” does not mean bound with oversight red-tape and smothered (like with a pillow). But, “well-regulated militia” to be well trained and disciplined. Attrubutes desirable in all regular military units.

I have seen nothing to suggest it means provisions, outfitted, or anything of that sort.

    Burnt Toast · August 6, 2023 at 7:04 pm

    Forgot –
    So “well regulated” in terms of a militia would mean a militia that was well governed, directed, or guided.
    So, yes, Federalist No. 29 would seem to agree

      Divemedic · August 6, 2023 at 7:17 pm

      Which agrees with my statement- the “well regulated militia” is the one that belongs to the state. The right to keep and bear arms is still unconnected to militia service.

        JaimeInTexas · August 6, 2023 at 7:53 pm

        And that suits me fine, given that there is no new power vested in the FedGov relating to infringing the “right to keep and bear arms”.
        The only way to infringe on some rights is upon trial and conviction of a crime requiring prison during imprisonment.

Slim Calhoun · August 6, 2023 at 7:38 pm

Red State always taught us that it was every male over age 17 and you had to be armed to be a member.
I’m sure it is Heather Has Two Mommies and rainbow bathhouse now.
Mommy Has Two Heaters would be a good one.

Echo Hotel · August 6, 2023 at 8:29 pm

From the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘well-regulated’ dates from the late 1500’s and means “Properly governed or directed; (now) esp. strictly controlled by rules or regulations. Also: accurately calibrated or adjusted.”

Burnt Toast · August 6, 2023 at 10:30 pm

Second to last sentence in the article,
” The militia is the people’s check and balance to the militia.”
This could be rephrased to be more clear.

I do believe I know the intent though.

    Divemedic · August 7, 2023 at 6:30 am

    LOL. Fixed it.

Miles · August 7, 2023 at 5:47 am

I tend to go with the idea of ‘functioning as designed, or intended’
A link :

The meaning of the phrase “well-regulated” in the 2nd amendment
From: Brian T. Halonen
The following are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, and bracket in time the writing of the 2nd amendment:

1709: “If a liberal Education has formed in us well-regulated Appetites and worthy Inclinations.”

1714: “The practice of all well-regulated courts of justice in the world.”

1812: “The equation of time … is the adjustment of the difference of time as shown by a well-regulated clock and a true sun dial.”

1848: “A remissness for which I am sure every well-regulated person will blame the Mayor.”

1862: “It appeared to her well-regulated mind, like a clandestine proceeding.”

1894: “The newspaper, a never wanting adjunct to every well-regulated American embryo city.”

The phrase “well-regulated” was in common use long before 1789, and remained so for a century thereafter. It referred to the property of something being in proper working order. Something that was well-regulated was calibrated correctly, functioning as expected. Establishing government oversight of the people’s arms was not only not the intent in using the phrase in the 2nd amendment, it was precisely to render the government powerless to do so that the founders wrote it.

    Divemedic · August 7, 2023 at 6:34 am

    Establishing government oversight of the people’s arms was not only not the intent in using the phrase in the 2nd amendment, it was precisely to render the government powerless to do so that the founders wrote it.

    I’m not sure that I understand the point you are trying to make. Are you saying that the phrase “well regulated militia” means that the 2A places the government in an oversight role of the people’s arms? That flies in the face of the second half of the amendment.

      Miles · August 7, 2023 at 7:13 pm

      Everything after ‘ A link’ is copypasta from the link.

      But -and it may just be me – I think you may have missed a word, so let me emphasize:

      Establishing government oversight of the people’s arms was not only not the intent in using the phrase in the 2nd amendment, it was precisely to render the government powerless to do so that the founders wrote it.

        Divemedic · August 7, 2023 at 7:49 pm

        Ah. That’s what I get for reading too fast.

Skyler the Weird · August 7, 2023 at 7:19 am

In 1770s North Carolina, poor Scots-Irish farmers in the Piedmont rebelled against Governor Tryon taxing their properties at the same rate as the rich plantations along the coast . They called themselves and their militia the Regulators. Their premise was they wanted to regulate their own lives. Sadly they were defeated by Government Militias and Crown troops at the Battle of Alamance. Many were hanged letting the more successful rebels later in the decade know what awaited them if they failed.

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