The Second Amendment is perhaps the most controversial part of the U.S. Bill of Rights. But that's not just because of our grander cultural debate around gun rights and gun violence — it's 'cause the damn thing is such a grammatical clusterfuck.
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.
27 words in 4 dependent clauses with no clear anything to link them. It's not clear if the thing that shall not be infringed is the well-regulated militia, or the right of the people to keep and bear arms, or if it's all dependent upon what is or is not necessary to the security of a free State. And anyone can make any one of those arguments, and have evidence to back it up that can't be definitively refuted, either.
Over at The Atlantic, James C. Phillips, a Fellow with the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University, and Josh Blackman, a Constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, discuss a novel approach to figuring out what, exactly, the Founding Fathers were actually trying to say: by creating and scanning through a massive database full of more than a billion words culled from formal American and British texts from 1475 to 1800. They specifically searched for instances where phrases such as "bear arms" and "keep arms" were used, and noted the context, the context, and adjacent language that accompanied the phrases to better understand how these terms were actually being used in their historical context. Read the rest