The Punctuation That Kills

The “second comma in the Second Amendment” is considered the deadliest puncturation and is blamed for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. That’s not entirely correct.

There was a discussion regarding the interpretation of the Second Amendment whether it said an individual’s right to a firearm was not to be infringed or not, and Justice Scalia decided that it did based on that now-infamous second comma. He argued that the second comma made everything that came before it to be just a little decoration.

“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 people keen of grammar would most likely put the emphasis on the third comma, however. Words and clauses that are bracketed by a pair of commas are inserted “sidebars,” and the sentence does not lose its core meaning with them omitted. In other words, there cannot be a comma placed between a true subject of the sentence and its verb, disqualifying “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” from being the thing that shall not be infringed.

I am not saying this is wrong. It took the Justice’s will to interpret it the way he did, and the use of interpretation is what got him appointed as the supreme court justice. This is how it works. What I’m saying is that this is the “well… you could interpret it that way if you really want to” interpretation, not the “yeah, that’s the most natural interpretation” interpretation.

The second comma didn’t kill anyone; it was made a patsy.


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