Grammar, guns and the Constitution
Let’s hope that as the justices of the Supreme Court consider the language of the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v Heller, they will keep in mind the understanding of English grammar prevalent among the Latinate-minded Founders.
The opening phrase of the amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” is, as Dennis Baron points out, an absolute, a phrase governing the rest of the sentence. Or so Mr. Madison would have understood it. The right to bear arms therefore has a direct connection to the establishment of a militia.
The revolutionary generation distrusted standing armies, which their reading of Roman history warned them could subvert the civilian government, and which their experience with George III taught them that the soldiery could be an instrument of royal tyranny. (Besides, the early national government taxed so lightly, mainly from customs duties, that it lacked the money to fund an army.)
Maintenance of public order depended largely on the militia, and in the colonial and Federal eras, the militia was made up, not of any yahoo who could touch off a flintlock, but of a group of adult male citizens who met more or less regularly for some level of military training.
The militia was an arm of the government, not an independent collection of citizens, as Article 1 of the Constitution indicates by giving Congress the power
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress. ...
(The effectiveness of such forces was highly variable. You may recall that the citizen soldiers of the militia crumbled before the British regulars at Bladensburg in 1814, leaving the way open for the occupation of the District of Columbia and the burning of the White House and Capitol.)
Not being learned in the law, I am unable to say whether this constitutional context grants residents of the District of Columbia a right to keep an arsenal of firearms under the bed. It will be interesting to see what the exponents on the court of Original Intent will make of all this.