iCivics and Second Amendment Language

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My 13 year old was instructed to visit iCivics by his new Civics teacher.  He was playing the game Do I Have A Right? and I noticed something over his shoulder.

In this game you hire Constitutional lawyers, and you can see how this lawyer’s job is interpreted.


When is saw that, I emailed the website with this question:

Describing the 2nd amendment as permitting ordinary weapons is incorrect. Who is in charge of fixing it?


A prompt reply came in the next day.  Here is the text of that reply.



Thank you for your question about the way Do I Have A Right? describes the Second Amendment. We certainly understand that many people are very concerned about how the right to bear arms is interpreted.

When describing constitutional rights for Do I Have a Right?, we have tried to do two things: 1) explain the rights in kid-friendly language, and 2) reflect as much as possible (given the space constraints) the current state of the law where a plain reading of the Constitution might be misleading or incomplete. The current state of the law factors in the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitutional rights.

We chose the phrase “ordinary weapons” to reflect the limitation the Supreme Court has placed on the right to bear arms in its last two cases that directly interpreted the Second Amendment. These cases were U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939) and U.S. v. Heller, 554 U.S. ___, (2008). In Miller, the Court held that the Second Amendment did not guarantee the right to possess a sawed-off shotgun. It based its reasoning on the kinds of weapons that would have been considered “ordinary military equipment.” In Heller, the Court interpreted the Miller case to say that “the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns.” Our use of the word “ordinary” came directly from these analyses. (I suppose we could just as easily have used “typical” instead.)

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In the same way, our “Bill of Rights” version of Do I Have a Right? describes the right to an attorney differently from the Constitution’s plain language. Our description says those accused of a crime have the right to an attorney “even if they can’t afford one,” which is a Supreme Court interpretation not found in the plain language of the Constitution but critical to an accurate understanding of that right in today’s legal system.

Please know that iCivics is made up of people with a wide range of views. We place a huge priority on making sure our materials are as accurate and free from bias as possible.

Again, I do appreciate you contacting us with your concern, and please feel free to reply with any further questions you may have.


A.A. (redacted for privacy)


I responded with this email.


Hi A.A.,
Thank you for your thoughtful response.  I certainly understand and respect the difficult job it must be to craft phrasing in a climate of adversarial politics.  I also understand and respect the difficulty in choosing “kid-friendly” language that requires a minimum of learning new vocabulary to comprehend.  Both of these values must be heavy to bear, and I suspect that using modified language is taken very seriously.
I discovered after sending my first message, that iCivics was founded by Justice O’Conner and has truly fantastic patronage and research behind it.  The program looks very good.
On to the subject at hand, I’m very familiar with Heller, and Miller.  Notice that the word “ordinary” is a modifier, of the subject, which is “military equipment.”  In the rendition on iCivics, the grammatical modifier is used and applied to an entirely different subject, specifically “weapons”.
By using the modifier from the SCOTUS rulings without using the appropriate dependent noun, an entirely new meaning is crafted, one which does not follow in clarifying the meaning of the Second Amendment, inclusive of the SCOTUS rulings.
In fact, the “sawed off shotgun” is specifically allowed to be banned because it has no use in military service.  The language on the website fails to make mention of military use, therefore rending the meaning of the Second Amendment impotent.
I understand that there are disagreements on this subject and am happy with your response.  Hopefully the use of the site will encourage young people to learn more about our government and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
Thank you for your time,
Russell Mann
A.A. responded again thusly:
Hi Russell,

Thanks for understanding that we are walking a difficult line on this one.

Even when we identify changes we’d like to make, with the way the game is built we can’t just go in and edit, unfortunately. (We have identified a few typos we would love to fix!)

We do appreciate your contacting us because, as I said, we try to be very conscientious about framing things neutrally, and hearing from people is one way we can get a sense of how well we’re succeeding. I’m just grateful there few enough true hot-button issues that it’s usually pretty easy to just steer clear of them altogether! Unfortunately can’t avoid this one. I’ve heard from several people about this wording, though, so if we ever break open and update this game, I may revisit this language.

Have a great day,


Here are some Wikipedia links for further reading on the subject.

City of Post Falls: Council Meeting Sept. 2nd

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Tonight I visited the Post Falls City Council.  It turns out the meetings, which are held every first and third Tuesday, are open to the public.  Not only that, they broadcast live on cable and online.  I’m trying to dig up the information on that and will provide links as soon as I can.

Update: Here is the Youtube Channel of archives.

You can see the rulers of Post Falls here.

Post Falls City Council (L-R): Seated: Mayor Ron Jacobson. Standing (L-R): Linda Wilhelm, Betty Ann Henderson, Skip Hissong, Joe Malloy, Alan Wolfe, and Kerri Thoreson.

Following this link, you can add the Post Falls city calendar to your Google Calendar. That way you’ll never miss a council meeting, planning and zoning meeting, etc.  It will ask you this question, to which you must say yes, after you log into your Google account of course.


OK, on to the juicy stuff!

Actually this week there isn’t anything juicy.  It was pretty ho-hum.  One thing everyone should know is there is a point in the proceedings open to the public.  Even if your issue is not on the agenda, they open the floor and each citizen has up to 5 minutes to bring your pressing needs to the attention of the government of Post Falls.  You can tell these guys would love some community input.

Will you go to an upcoming city council meeting?  What issues are you concerned about?  Feel free to post in the comments!