History

One Gun Policy Idea We Can Agree On: Magazine Regulation

Gun policy change in America seems to have come to a fork in the road: on the one hand, the forces favoring stronger gun laws have become more numerous, more vocal, and arguably more successful. On the other hand, the infusion of new, very conservative judicial appointments coming from the Trump administration who seem to embrace unadorned fealty to a broad reading of the Second Amendment (including two new conservative Supreme Court justices) suggests that the courts are poised to view gun laws with greater skepticism.

Scholarship Highlight: Lund on Second Amendment Methodology

Nelson Lund has posted a new paper to SSRN, History and Tradition in Second Amendment Jurisprudence, forthcoming in the University of Florida Journal of Law & Public Policy. Lund’s paper is fascinating and provocative. He argues that the approach advocated by then-Judge Kavanaugh—that focuses on text, history, and tradition in lieu of traditional methods of means-end scrutiny—is misguided. Justice Kavanaugh, Lund contends “misinterpreted Heller” and thus adopted an approach “he mistakenly imputed to Heller.”

Retrospective on Fall Symposium: Gun Rights and Regulation Outside the Home

Last Friday, the Center hosted its fall symposium on Gun Rights and Regulation Outside the Home. The discussions generated through the panel presentations and Q&A portion of the event were engaging and thought-provoking. We intentionally convened scholars from a broad variety of disciplines and viewpoints. Judging by the presentations, there’s no doubt that the spring issue of Law & Contemporary Problems, which will be publishing the articles that come out of the symposium, is going to be well worth the read. The event was recorded and the panel discussions can be viewed at the links below.

The Untold, Somewhat Embarrassing Story Behind the NRA’s Laudatory Messages from President’s Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower

To say the history of gun rights is full of hyperboles, misnomers, and myths would be an understatement.  Time and time again, when historians examine the history of gun rights, it turns out that what is long claimed to be settled history is more nominal than real.  There is an abundance of examples of this, several of which are outlined in my book Armed in America: A History of Gun Rights from Colonial Militias to Concealed Carry.

My recent research trip at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library shed much light on another historical hyperbole—that Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Eisenhower each, on their own volition, sent the National Rifle Association (NRA) laudatory messages of support.

Heller and the Vagaries of History

By now, Heller’s central holding is familiar: whatever other restrictions it may impose, the government cannot ban handgun possession in the home because “the American people have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon.” But what “people” made that choice? Not The People who ratified the Second Amendment in 1791. For them, the “quintessential self-defense weapon” was almost certainly a musket or hunting rifle, if a firearm at all. Does it matter that, through sheer happenstance, Heller was decided in 2008 when handguns were the predominant self-defense weapon?

Firearms Law Workshop Mini-Symposium, Part V: The Use of the Second Amendment to Reject Conscription

In 2019, national conscription, or the draft, no longer feels like the ominous threat to civil liberties that it once did. Today, American male citizens must still register at 18 and there are existing proposals and a national commission considering expanding the draft to include women. Yet, the first and most significant fight over the constitutionality of conscription occurred during the American Civil War. Constitutional conservatives believed the power to draft would lead to a consolidated, centralized and despotic national government. Looking to preserve the original structure of federalism, constitutional conservatives saw the Second Amendment as an additional bulwark against the expansion of federal power. However, the use of the Second Amendment was primarily used by lawyers and a handful of influential legally-trained politicians to bolster their core objections to conscription and never became central to constitutional challenges in the wider, popular debates.

Firearms Law Workshop Mini-Symposium, Part IV: Regulation, Not Rights: the Early History of a National Firearms Industry

It should be no surprise that today some of the biggest gun companies are in New England, where the government fostered the development of firearms manufacturing. These include Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC (Hartford, CT), Smith and Wesson (Springfield, MA), and Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc., (Southport, CT). Although discussions of gun culture today tend to focus on the Second Amendment, we should consider the origins of the government’s intervention in the arms industry, a history that involves regulating the types of firearms manufacturers brought to the market. By understanding the precise ways the federal government fostered the emergence of an industry that is dependent on both military conflict and a civilian gun culture, we can point to the ways the government is obligated to regulate it. It is more than a Second Amendment issue; it is a safety regulation issue.

Firearms Law Works-in-Progress Workshop

On Friday, the Center for Firearms Law hosted the first of what we hope will become an annual Firearms Law Works-in-Progress Workshop. The immediate goal was to give scholars—especially those new to the area—a chance to engage with another’s work. More broadly, and in keeping with the Center’s overall mission, our hope was to help build a scholarly community and to broaden and deepen firearms law as a scholarly discipline.

Book Mini-Symposium Part I: Militias, Bearing Arms, and the Forgotten Language of Eighteenth-Century Rights

Although most modern Americans could easily dispense with the militia clause of the Second Amendment, eighteenth-century Americans generally believed that the preamble’s affirmation of the necessity of a well-regulated militia was far more important than asserting a right to keep and bear arms. Indeed, most of the first state constitutions did not even mention the right to bear arms.  Additional evidence of this view may be found in Federalist William Rawle’s comments on the meaning of the Second Amendment in A View of the Constitution of the United States. Rawle described the right to bear arms as a corollary of a well-regulated militia.