If instead of a retired lawyer I was a teacher of English or civics or history or any of several other subjects (or a journalist for that matter), I’d give my students or readers an assignment. I’d start by posting the entire Second Amendment as it now reads, like this:

"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."

Next I’d observe that the amendment is by no means clear, and I’d back up this observation by pointing to various Supreme Court cases where judges acknowledge the lack of clarity and do their best to interpret the meaning (and I’d give other historical examples of political processes producing unclear language that courts had to interpret, as one of their basic tasks).

Letters: I’m tired of people taking the Second Amendment out of context _lowres

In a Feb. 23, 2013, file photo, gun-rights activist Jotham holds a rifle and a sign with his daughter, Valina, 3, also carrying a gun, during a "National Day of Resistance" rally at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah. Valina said they were were there to show their support for the U.S. Constitution and the 2nd Amendment. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Third and finally, I’d challenge my students or readers to rewrite the amendment so that it makes sense to them, either in terms of what it meant originally (if they consider themselves originalists) or what it means to say (if they consider themselves textualists), or what is should say (if they consider themselves activists). Of course, if they think — unlike both liberal and conservative judges — that it is perfectly clear, for them no rewriting would be needed.

To give an example of how this amendment could be rewritten, I’ll end with my own tentative effort at rewriting it. Of the above categories, I consider myself a textualist, in the sense that I think judges should search first for the meaning in a text, and only “interpret” it to clarify confusion, so that the people can subsequently decide if the text needs changing. (I did once serve as a military judge, and had occasion to interpret a vague regulation, which prompted regulators to rewrite the language so that it became clear; thus this is more than an academic process for me.)

My hope in suggesting this exercise by students or readers is that it could actually lead to productive discussions and perhaps rewriting of the second amendment, or perhaps to a new interpretation of it, and toward that end here is my own effort. I’ll be interested in hearing how others would rewrite it:

Citizens have the right to keep and bear arms without infringement from the federal government. Well-regulated state militias being necessary to the security of a free nation, however, citizens who keep and bear arms must do so pursuant to the reasonable regulations of the duly constituted state militias where they keep or bear arms.

Michael Cavanaugh

retired attorney

Baton Rouge