"bear arms" in the BYU Law corpora

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In the comments on my recent post "The BYU Law corpora," Dennis Baron writes:

Sorry, J. Scalia, you got it wrong in Heller. I just ran "bear arms" through BYU's EMne [=Early Modern English] and Founding Era American English corpora, and of about 1500 matches (not counting the duplicates), all but a handful are clearly military.

Baron was one of the signatories to the linguists' amicus brief in Heller.


In the comments below, Ben Zimmer links to Baron's article, "Guns and Grammar: the Linguistics of the Second Amendment," which provides some details about the argument in that brief.

[Cross-posted on LAWnLinguistics.]


  1. J Thomas McAlister said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 6:33 am

    This is interesting because I’ve come to suspect that the second amendment actually guarantees a community the right to establish a protective police force—not an individual right to own guns. It’s those commas, too. Those commas affect the way it should be read, or has there been a show that the commas are inconsistent with interpreting meanings in legal documents of that time?

  2. philip said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 6:35 am

    What happened to their linguistic argument? Did the NRA object to that too?

  3. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 9:53 am

    See Dennis Baron's article, "Guns and Grammar: the Linguistics of the Second Amendment," for more on the linguistic argument that was discounted in the Heller decision.

  4. David Hill said,

    May 9, 2018 @ 10:24 am

    The Second Amendment is about national defense. Adam Smith published "The Wealth of Nations" in 1775. Refer to pages 659-660 for a nice contemporary definition of militia, in contrast to a standing army. Then note that the US Constitution does not provision a standing army. Most of the founding fathers loathed standing armies.

  5. Sean M said,

    May 11, 2018 @ 12:12 am

    I wish I knew of an article which in 5k to 10k words lays a bunch of militia laws from Old Babylonian Mari to colonial Maryland beside one another, summarizes the exempla from classical and medieval history which any 18th century gentleman could rattle off, and digresses into topics like laws against stockpiling arms or wearing swords within the town limits. There are things which are pretty well known to military historians with a world-historical bent, but I don't know any who is far enough from the United States to be disinterested and who is prepared for the angry emails.

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