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What “well-regulated” means

militiaBob Owens

You hear a lot of nimrods opining from time to time that when the Founders wrote the Second Amendment to the Constitution, that “well-regulated” means that laws mustgovern the use of gun… completely ignore that whole “shall not be infringed” part that makes their contention nonsensical from the start.

In reality, here in the real world, there are only two definitions of “well-regulated” that make any sense at all regarding firearms.

The first is the regulation of a firearm itself, which refers to aligning the point of aim (POA) of a firearm’s sights to the point of impact (POI) of the bullet. In plain English, at a givenrange, does the bullet hit where you aim?

While it make come as a shock to some, a firearm’s sights (iron or optical) are never horizontally in parallel with the barrel. The sights are aligned at a downward angle, so that when you point the firearm at the target, the bullet exiting the barrel rises up and intersects the sight plane.

As gravity has it’s effect on the bullet and it begins to arc down towards the earth, it intersects the light of sight of second time. It looks like this with most variants the Ar-15 platform, where a 25 meter zero again falls into being dead-on at roughly 300 meters, dependent on a number of factors.

Example of the rise and fall of a bullet's trajectory, using the AR-15 as an example, via Gun & Game.

Example of the rise and fall of a bullet’s trajectory, using the AR-15 as an example, via Gun & Game.

How is this relevant? When a shooter talks about getting his sights/optics lined up correctly so that they hit exactly what they are aiming at, neither high nor low, that is the distance at which the sights are regulated.

Here’s just one example of the term in action picked randomly from a recent blog post (my emphasis):

Got a chance to try out the Nazi K43 today. I had some very old (red & green box) commercial Remington 170gr RN soft-pt, and two very old surplus FMJ. One was 1945 vintage, the other 1952 vintage. Both were loaded with the 154gr flat-base FMJ. I’m unsure of the countries of origin. ( ’45 possibly Greek & ’52 possibly some arab country) Both were definitely corrosive. Believe it or not, every round fired with gusto!

First fired 3 rounds iron sight & 3 w/scope @ 25 yds to see if it was on the paper. It grouped low with both types of the surplus ammo but groups were about an inch. I made some elevationadjustments and began shooting @ 100 yds off the bench. I eventually got everything regulated fairly close. Groups were about 3″ to as big as 6.25″ with most in the 3.5″ to 4.5″ range. Scope made no difference in group size that I could tell. Of course, I’m used to using irons, The scope might help a shooter if they dont  [sic] typically do well w/irons.

A more complicated type of regulation occurs when alligning multi-barrel firearms like cape guns used for dangerous game in Africa and drillings popular in parts of Europe, where multiple barrels have to be aligned with the sights at a specific range, with each barrel/cartridge combination makes getting each barrel regulated to the sights even more difficult.<

Of course, the Founders weren’t specifically using this correct definition of “well-regulated,” but something similar. In colonial times (and in certain technical professions today), well-regulated means refers to a mechanism that is smoothly functioning, such as awell-regulated chronograph that keeps time accurately.

This is the definition—the only possible definition—of the term in the phrase “a well-regulated militia” that makes sense.

Asmoothly functioning militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The Founders knew a smoothly-functioning, well-trained militia was necessary to the security of the young Republic, and the only way that could occur is if the citizens of the republic had the unimpeded right to arms if militia use.

You might say, quite correctly, that a well-regulated militia needs well-regulated firearms, and neither use of the term implies laws, restrictions, or limits apply.

Or does “shall not be infringed” need to be explained as well?

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4 Responses to What “well-regulated” means

  1. REDHORSE says:

    One of the most overlooked reasons for bad grouping is the trigger pull.If it takes a D-9 cat dozer to pull the trigger you’ll never get any kind of group.It need not be a two lb pull (and this is not recomended for a combat type weapon) but a smooth pull that is say 3-3.5 lbs will give you far better groups.

  2. Jolly Roger says:

    Yes. I read this written by an English professor, and it’s entirely true, as it can be verified by other writings made at the time.

    Today “well-regulated” means “subjected to regulations”, but when the constitution was written the phrase meant “functioning as expected”, and in the case of Militias, they were “well-regulated” by being armed to the teeth and ready for battle; and NOT regulated by any governmental body.

    • Edwin Vieira, Jr. says:

      A “well regulated Militia” in pre-constitutional times was one that was regulated according to certain principles set out in a statute enacted by a Colonial assembly or the legislature of a State. There were literally hundreds of these statutes, the titles of which were often “An Act to regulate the Militia of …” To say that these Militia– which were the models for “the Militia of the several States” incorporated within the Constitution–were not “regulated” by some governmental body (an assembly or legislature, to be specific) is historically and legally inaccurate.

  3. PrionPartyy says:

    “a free state” also means something different today. Way back then, there were 13 states united, and the federal government was the alien of all 13.

    Maybe some of you should start thinking about what that ment then and means today. It really opens up the subject to a whole new debate.

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