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Is the Right to Bear Arms Plural?

Tomorrow, Illinois’ concealed carry laws will become ineffective, having been held unconstitutional by the Seventh Circuit several months ago. The Court kept the unconstitutional law on life support for a few months to give the legislature time to craft a replacement measure. Springfield responded, but now that bill has been vetoed by Governor Quinn.

If the legislature does not override or accept the Governor’s veto by tomorrow, Illinois will go from being one of the most restrictive states for gun regulation to one of the most open.

The Governor issued an “amendatory veto” – declaring what additions or changes he would make to the legislation. Several of these raise serious Second Amendment problem (the legislature’s bill was not free of these, but Quinn’s is much worse). Here I’ll examine just one, which is in tension with the constitutional text itself: limiting people to carrying only one gun.

Arms is a plural term, and the presumption should thus be that the right to bear them extends to more than one firearm. To be sure, “arms” is one of those terms where the plural can refer to the singular. But it is not one of those “sheep” words where there is no singular; arm, firearm, weapon or gun would all clearly indicate the singular, but those words were not used.

Johnson’s Dictionary, notes that grammatically arms lacks a singular form even when used singularly, but defines it as “weapons” rather than weapon, suggesting the dominance of the plural use.

The straight textual argument may be particularly relevant here as the Seventh Circuit struck down the Illinois gun ban using a straight reading of “bear arms” – bear means to carry, and thus the right must extend to carrying in public. Given that the Court held “bear” must be taken seriously, […]

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