What is The Actual Meaning of “Well-Regulated” in the 2nd Amendment
By Stuart Klearman
Credit where credit is due. This condenses and builds upon the works of Brian T. Halonen and Denton Bramwell.
Today, well-regulated’s meaning has changed to mean “government-controlled.” This comes as no surprise, as all governments usurp and centralize power to themselves. However, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the time of the 2nd Amendment, the phrase meant something quite different. There are plenty of examples in literature from the era to support that when the 2nd Amendment was written, well-regulated meant more along the lines of operating in a normal or proper state, such as a clock keeping accurate time or a gentleman with good manners.
This was reflected in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), where the Supreme Court wrote that well-regulated could mean nothing more than “trained and disciplined.” I’ll take it to a simpler interpretation…it means skilled marksmanship. The entire purpose of having citizen militias required that those heeding the call needed to be proficient with arms.
More recently, in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v Bruen, 597 U.S. (2022), the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that all gun control laws must be anchored in the laws and traditions of 1791. As one more (overlooked) case which I think applies, consider Miranda v Arizona 384 U.S. 436 (1966), which held that “where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no legislation or rule-making which would abrogate them.”
What are some of those literary examples which show the proper meaning of well-regulated?
Let’s take a look at a few.
Anne Newport Royall commented in 1822 that Huntsville, Alabama was becoming quite civilized and prosperous, with a “fine fire engine” and a “well-regulated company.” Obviously, well-regulated had to mean trained and efficient.
From William Makepeace Thackeray Vanity Fair, A Novel Without a Hero 1848, “He did not like to own that he had not as yet been to see his parents and his dear sister Ann—a remissness for which I am sure every well-regulated person will blame the major.”
(Editors note: An engraved first edition of A Novel Without a Hero 1848 will only set you back $6k if you want a copy of your own)
From Trumps: A Novel, Geo. Wm. Curtis, 1861, page 146, “Marriage is a most important relation. Young men cannot be too cautious in regard to it. It is not an affair of the feelings merely; but common sense dictates that when new relations are likely to arise, suitable provision should be made. Hence every well regulated person considers the matter from a pecuniary point of view.”
From The Writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1896, page 292, “And there’s no sort of reason, Betsey, why you shouldn’t exercise self-control and eat your supper,” pursued Miss Dorcas authoritatively. “A well-regulated mind”—- “You needn’t talk to me about a well-regulated mind, Dorcas,” responded Mrs. Betsey in an exacerbated tone. “I haven’t got a well-regulated mind and never had, and never shall have;”
As you can plainly see from these examples, well-regulated did not mean “government-controlled.”