Yesterday’s words, today’s meanings in 2nd Amendment debate

Laura K. Silver is a trustee of the Jewish Light who writes a blog for the paper’s website (  She owns The Paper Trail of St. Louis, a financial and legal concierge service. She is the mother of two elementary school-age children.

By Laura K. Silver

There has been a lot of focus these last few months on the Second Amendment. 

If you haven’t looked at it lately, here is how it reads verbatim:

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Those who oppose restrictions on gun control point to the word “infringed” to prove their point. Using present day meanings, they expect that this right is absolute and should not be restricted.   According to the latest Merriam-Webster dictionary, “infringed” means “encroached upon in a way that violates law or the rights of another.” 


Language evolves and words change meaning over the course of time.  If we really want to know what was intended by our Founding Fathers, we need to look at what their words meant at the time the document was drafted.

The Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary is the most proximate source to determine meaning at the time of the Constitution.  According to that dictionary, “infringed” had the following meaning:  “broken, violated, transgresses.”  In other words, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be violated.”  

For the record, the word “militia” meant a group of able bodied men designed to supplement the army in emergencies — it did not have a rebellious connotation of today.  The idea was to have organized reserves to support the military in the event of attack, not to have the means to uprise against our own government as some would have you believe today.

The Constitution was designed to be a fluid document that would withstand the test of time.  If we stick to original meanings, it does.  It is only when we try to put our modern definitions on words from the 1700s that we get ourselves into trouble. 

To me, there is a big difference between violating the right to bear arms and restricting the arms that people are allowed to bear.  One is a right guaranteed by the Founding Fathers.  The other is not.