History

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.

What’s in a name? The Evolution of the Term “Gun”

The 1828 edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language (which Justice Scalia cited in District of Columbia v. Heller when he defined “arms,” “keep,” “carry,” and “militia”) defined “gun” as “[a]n instrument consisting of a barrel or tube of iron or other metal fixed in a stock, from which balls, shot, or other deadly weapons are discharged by the explosion of gunpowder. The larger species of guns are called cannon; and the small species are called muskets, carbines, fowling pieces, &c. But one species of fire-arms, the pistol, is never called a gun.”

Twitter Series: Historical Gun Law a Day

The Center’s Twitter account—@DukeFirearmsLaw—has been a way for us to get out information about the Center, interesting scholarship and cases, and news about this blog. And we’ve recently started amplifying laws from the Repository of Historical Gun Laws. Through our new hashtag #HistoricalGunLawADay series, we’ve been highlighting one new historical law every single day, showing the myriad ways that firearms have been regulated throughout Anglo-American history.

Minors and Firearms: A Divided Nation

In my last blog series, I discussed laws currently in the Repository of Historical Gun Laws that relate to the category “Felons, Foreigners and Others Deemed Dangerous By the State.”

I have begun wading into a new category on the Repository over the past few weeks: “Possession By, Use of, and Sales to Minors.” Recently, I organized these laws into three groups: (1) laws that address all firearms, (2) laws that address concealable weapons or weapons worn concealed, and (3) laws that address only pistols and revolvers. I translated these groups onto a map, and what emerged was a hard line across the country, dividing the map into the North and the South.