Colion Noir, a gun rights activist, while commenting on an interview of Jon Stewart about the US constitution's Second Amendment, made a claim:

John thinks that well-regulated means controlled or supervised by the government. In the late 18th century when the second amendment was written, well regulated to not mean controlled or supervised by the government. It meant well-functioning.

well-regulated in 18th century tended to be something like well organized well-armed well-disciplined

Noir uses some text from a 2016 CNN politics article to defend his point.

Are there references, which would indicate how 'regulated' was understood in 18th century America? If so, how was it understood?

  • 9
    Over at Law.SE they have experts on constitutional precedents. Over at English.SE, they have experts on etymology and the changing definitions of words. I just worry that this might be difficult to answer empirically.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 10 at 8:16
  • 6
    ... and over at History.SE they have experts on the context, who have discussed this very question.
    – Jack B
    Commented Jun 10 at 9:28
  • @JackB, a short summary of that History.SE answer (with appropriate credit) would make an excellent answer here. Commented Jun 10 at 13:03
  • @RayButterworth I'm probably not going to find the time, and US history isn't my bag, so if you fancy it go ahead.
    – Jack B
    Commented Jun 10 at 18:28
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    I would like to note that how something was 'understood' is not the same as how a law is interpreted.
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Jun 11 at 5:18

1 Answer 1


The 1828 Websters Dictionary explains:

The militia of a country are the able bodied men organized into companies, regiments and brigades, with officers of all grades, and required by law to attend military exercises on certain days only, but at other times left to pursue their usual occupations.

In the Federalist, Alexander Hamilton considered it impractical to form a truly well-regulated militia, writing:

To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss ... Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the People at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year.

So at a minimum "well-regulated militia" required that the bulk of the population be "properly armed and equipped", but could also include "going through military exercises".

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