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The Classic Ambiguity

I took a grammar class in college this spring (and aced it, natch) so I thought I'd share from my textbook. Pg 200…

"The absolute phrase (also known as the "nominative absolute") is a structure independent from the main sentence;(...) The absolute phrase introduces an idea related to the sentence as a whole, not to any one of it's parts:"

 It goes on with examples... I'll skip those.

 "Absolute phrases are of two kinds - with different purposes and different effects. (...) ...the first kind: the absolute that explains a cause or condition. (...) the absolute phrase could be rewritten as a "because, "when" or "since" clause:" The other type... "The absolute construction, on the other hand, leaves open the possibility for other reasons...." etc.,

 "Perhaps the most famous absolute phrase is the one found in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And, as we know, it is open to more than one interpretation:"

 Ah hah! She had a point to this grammar nonsense, you say.

So is the absolute phrase (or "nominative absolute") in the 2nd Am. a phrase that "explains a cause or condition" or is it an "absolute construction?"

And what does it mean if it's one or the other?

If it is an absolute construction then "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state," leaves open the possibility of other reasons for the rest of it. The militia is just one possible reason for the right to bear arms.

But if it's an absolute phrase that explains a cause or condition? What then?

Recall that in that case it can be rewritten as a "because", "when" or "since" clause.  Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state... or Since a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state... Which means, of course, that the right to keep and bear arms is *in service to* the necessity of a militia.

STOP! I just know a bunch of you are getting ready to jump down my throat just now. Stop. Look at what I wrote and read the worlds. The anti-gunners who use this supposed ambiguity to claim that without a militia there is no right to bear arms are completely wrong. The ambiguity is there, but only in the question of whether or not the *necessary* militia is optional, and not even for a moment if the right to bear arms is a right.

Because this clause on its own isn't ambiguous at all... A well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state. Period. Full stop.

If there is any ambiguity in the 2nd Amendment it's over whether or not the "militia" can be required by law to own and train with weapons or if they can chose to be unarmed. (Recall those town councils that pass resolutions that each head of household must own a gun.)

If the first clause of the 2nd Am. describes "a cause or condition" for the second clause, and the anti-gunners think that a lack of a militia rules it out... they just aren't actually reading the first clause.

(The test phrase "When" a well-regulated militia is necessary to a free state... is invalid because the statement is not something that would normally be a transient condition. But even if you think so, it's ridiculous to think that our founders put something in the Constitution that they considered a transient condition or mere temporary concern.)


Very well thought out Synova.

It's pure logic.
Synova said…
I've got a draft to go to your blog some time when the posting is slow.


It's ever so slightly different. I tried to tighten it up a bit more.
Anonymous said…
Popped over from TOM's place. Nicely done. As an aside, when did diagramming sentences cease to be a part of elementary school curricula? We're the lesser for that loss.

BTW, love New Mexico, especially the Peloncillo Mountains south of Rodeo in the Bootheel.


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