The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:
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.
As an editor, I can interpret this only one way: the framers of the Constitution meant to ensure that the state militias were armed. The sentence is structured so that the right to bear arms is dependent on the existence of and need for citizen militias. We no longer have such militias; hence the amendment has become irrelevant.
This is, of course, an exercise in semantics. Practically speaking, there is no way, now, to eliminate all the guns in our society. This is why we need responsible, strictly enforced gun laws.
The Supreme Court, in the next six months or so, will rule on Heller v. District of Columbia, a case that turns on the Second Amendment. It will be interesting to see how the Court interprets it.
Note, 6/26/2008: In a 5-4 decision today on the Heller case, the Supreme Court ruled that D.C.’s ban on handgun ownership is unconstitutional. Regarding the phraseology of the Constitution, the court said that while “a well regulated militia” is one reason to allow citizens to own guns, it is not the only reason. The court found the ban on gun ownership to be unconstitutional, but it did not rule against regulation of that ownership. D.C. officials warned that while citizens can now own and keep handguns in their homes, it will still be illegal to carry those guns in public. Not surprisingly, the NRA (National Rifle Association) has promised to challenge other gun laws across the nation.
Update, 10/4/2015: I just came across this very relevant excerpt from a book by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens: “The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment.”