verb (used with object), reg·u·lat·ed, reg·u·lat·ing.

  1. to control or direct by a rule, principle, method, etc.: regulate shooting activity, to regulate household expenses.
  2. to adjust to some standard or requirement, as amount, degree, etc.: regulate skill, to regulate the temperature.
  3. to adjust so as to ensure accuracy of operation: regulate marksmanship, to regulate a watch.
  4. to put in good order: regulate shooting events, to regulate the digestion.

The meaning of the phrase “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment, from Brian T. Halonen

The following are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, and bracket in time the writing of the 2nd amendment:

  • 1709: “If a liberal Education has formed in us well-regulated Appetites and worthy Inclinations.”
  • 1714: “The practice of all well-regulated courts of justice in the world.”
  • 1812: “The equation of time … is the adjustment of the difference of time as shown by a well-regulated clock and a true sun dial.”
  • 1848: “A remissness for which I am sure every well-regulated person will blame the Mayor.”
  • 1862: “It appeared to her well-regulated mind, like a clandestine proceeding.”
  • 1894: “The newspaper, a never wanting adjunct to every well-regulated American embryo city.”

The phrase “well-regulated” was in common use long before 1789, and remained so for a century thereafter. It referred to the property of something being in proper working order. Something that was well-regulated was calibrated correctly, functioning as expected. Establishing government oversight of the people’s arms was not only not the intent in using the phrase in the 2nd amendment, it was precisely to render the government powerless to do so that the founders wrote it.

“Well regulated” means ordered and disciplined.

“The distinction between a well regulated Army, and a Mob, is the good order and discipline of the first, and the licentious and disorderly behaviour of the latter.”

– General Washington
August 25, 1776

Gun owners use this to argue against legal restrictions (“regulation” in current usage) and correctly so. The weight of evidence in the meaning of the phrase when the Second Amendment was written indicate it was about order, discipline and training. Of course, this means gun owners exercising their Second Amendment rights need to remain orderly, disciplined and trained in order to remain “well regulated.”

The Founding Fathers did not spell out how much instruction, practice, training and participation was needed to remain well regulated in the use of arms, however, local militias would commonly muster at the town or village commons monthly. A formal, scored test of marksmanship skill was, and is, common at least once or twice a year.

If you haven’t handled your firearms in organized training or practice in the past 30 days on your own and haven’t attended a formal event that measured your skill (class, competition, etc.) in the past 12 months, you are not well regulated in your use of arms.