Arms and Persons

Eugene Kontorovich has argued that the plural “Arms” in the Second Amendment implies a right to more than one gun per person. I argued that “Arms” had to be plural to match “the right of the People,” plural, and so the plural tells us nothing about number of guns per person. Eugene responds with a comparison to the Fourth Amendment: “Is the ‘people’s’ right to be secure in their ‘houses, papers, and effects’ even arguably singular, or be [sic] restricted to one house, one paper, one effect?”

Fair enough, but Eugene skips a telling counterexample. The Fourth Amendment also protects “The right of the people to be secure in their persons ….” The word “persons” had to be plural — just as “houses,” “papers,” “effects,” and “Arms” all had to be plural — to match the plural word “people.” Nevertheless, each individual presumably has a right to be in secure only in his own, singular, person. So, the plural nouns in the text simply do not answer the question of number per person; even though both “persons” and “papers” are plural in the text, each individual has a right to be secure in his person (singular) and his papers (plural). At least as a matter of grammar, “Arms” could be like “papers” (presumably many per individual), or like “persons” (presumably one per individual).

Again, I am sympathetic to Eugene’s ultimate conclusion, but I don’t think that grammar proves the point.