(Originally appeared in Lognet 90/3)
Advocates on both sides of the debate over gun control often refer to the second amendment to the United States Constitution to support their positions. The second amendment provides in full:
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.
Supporters of gun control argue that the second amendment protects only the right of states to maintain militias (the modern counterpart of which is the national guard) or, at most, the right of people to keep arms in their homes as part of their duties as members of the national guard. Those opposing gun control legislation argue that the straightforward injunction that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed” renders unconstitutional any legal restrictions on gun ownership. Does Loglan shed any light on the meaning of the second amendment?
I think the answer is yes. Loglan may provide some illumination because the process of rendering or translating text (such as the second amendment) into Loglan forces the translator to unpack the logical relations among the concepts under consideration. In the case of the second amendment, translation clarifies two contrasting interpretations of the text, and, I think, demonstrates that one is preferable.
Before starting off on this task, however, I’d like to mention the two main themes in constitutional law today—themes that illustrate the debate on the meaning of the second amendment. The most widely accepted position in constitutional law is called “interpretivism,” whose supporters have at times been referred to as “strict constructionists.” The interpretivists hold that a court (or a citizen) wishing to decide what the Constitution means should attempt to interpret the intentions of the framers of the Constitution. In other words, we must view law and society through an eighteenth century looking glass in construing the Constitution. If we think that this looking glass is dated, then we may change the Constitution through the process of amendment, or through the never-used process of a second constitutional convention. Otherwise, the intentions of the framers control. If a value or belief is not found in the framers’ intentions, it may not be considered in constitutional construction.
The interpretivists’ point of view is widely accepted when applied to the process of construing state or federal statutes. The often-heard question in congressional confirmation hearings for federal judges is whether the judge will interpret the law, or make it up based on his personal preferences. (Most judges will allow how they do not make up the law according to their whims that day.) In the ethereal regions of constitutional construction, though, the argument in favor of interpretivism weakens, since courts encounter twentieth century problems to which the Constitution gives no easy answer. While the Supreme Court gives lip service to interpretivism, there are many cases, particularly in the areas of economic regulation, privacy, and civil rights, where the Court has gone further in extending legal protections than the framers could have intended.
The counterpoint to interpretivism is simply called non-interpretivism. The non-interpretivists believe that a modern nation cannot be bound by eighteenth century notions of the nature of government, politics, and society, and urge that courts bring in other values to supplement those of the framers. Some of these values would be modern notions of morality and right, philosophy, the views of state and federal legislatures, popular views, and the judge’s own values. Critics of non-interpretivism argue that the non-interpretivists open a Pandora’s box of possibilities when they look outside the intentions of the framers, since any judge can grab hold of any concept in determining what the law is.
All of which brings me back to the second amendment to the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court has for many years taken the position that the second amendment does not forbid state or federal legislation restricting the right to bear arms. Current doctrine is that the second amendment is intended to protect the state governments from federal interference with their militias, rather than to protect individuals from federal and state restrictions on the right to bear arms. United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). There is a strong interpretivist case to be made for this view.
There is nevertheless a vocal minority—critics of gun control legislation—that espouse a non-interpretivist position and argue that, since states, strictly speaking, no longer have militias, the meaning of the amendment should be considered in light of current circumstances, which dictate that there shall simply be “no infringement” of the right to own guns. (To be fair, I should point out that some opponents of gun control argue, in the fashion of interpretivists, that the intention of the framers was to forbid all gun control legislation, but this claim does not survive historical scrutiny.)
In attempting to translate the second amendment into Loglan, I came upon two possible logical structures, identical except for one word. The two structures appear to parallel the two lines of thinking on the meaning of the second amendment. Below is my rendering of the second amendment in Loglan, with the single contumacious word indicated:
Lo gudbi nu stuli rezbilca ga nerbi
A well-regulated militia is (being) necessary
lopo lo frezi poldi ga curca guo,
to the free state’s security,
[The connective implied by being]
lepu le piplo ga lilnurlei lopo klipu,
the people’s right to keep
e berti gu lo tarmu, no ai nu rodcko.
and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
What should the connective be? My two candidates are ice (and) and inurau (thus). If ice is used, then the second amendment states two separate ideas: (1) a militia is necessary to preserve a people’s security, and (2) the people’s right to arms shall not be infringed. If inurau is used, then the second clause is a rational consequence of the first: (1) a militia is necessary to preserve people’s security, thus (2) the people’s right to arms shall not be infringed. The two readings of the second amendment are obvious in Loglan and turn on the lexeme chosen for the critical connective word. Things are not so clear in English. [In fact in English, it is not even clear that there is a connective word! The word that obscurely contains it is not even near the joint between the two clauses!—Ed.]
So which connective is better, ice or inurau? I vote in favor of inurau. A reading using ice connects an initial phrase that makes a fairly noncontroversial statement about the world (militias protect people) with a legal injunction about the possible actions a government may take (it may not restrict the right to arms). If the Constitution is a set of legal directives, and it appears to be, then what is this first phrase doing there at all? It’s as if, in the middle of a clause delineating the proper legal circumstances for impeaching a government official (high crimes, treason, etc.), the framers inserted, “And treason can really hurt a country, too.” The Constitution does not appear to mix legal instructions with statements about reality this way.
A reading using inurau is preferable. In this reading, the first clause of the second amendment explains its reasoning in making a constitutional rule: Because x is true, y shall not do z; because militias are necessary for our security, governments shall not infringe the right to bear arms. The framers were not reticent about explaining their reasoning in the Constitution. The Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, was quite an innovation, and the framers were touchy about justifying their invention.
Since we can deduce the reasoning the framers used in passing the second amendment, we can apply our insights in interpreting the second amendment. Is there a constitutional right to bear arms? Generally no, but someone (the states or the people) have the right to maintain militias, and that right can’t be undercut by restricting the right to bear arms. What, then, is “the right to keep and bear arms” the second amendment refers to? In light of the explanation provided in the first clause, it’s the right to keep and bear arms in a militia, and nothing more.
Does Loglan tell us whether gun control is sensible social policy? Of course not, but neither does the second amendment to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights states restrictions on government interference with state and individual rights, which every citizen may believe are wise or foolish, as he sees fit. Loglan can assist us in interpreting the meaning of legal texts such as the second amendment because of its logical power.
Copyright © 1990 by The Loglan Institute. All rights reserved.