THE MILITIA AND THE RIGHT TO ARMS: Or, How the Second Amendment Fell Silent

H. Richard Uviller, Author, William G. Merkel, Author . Duke Univ. $19.95 (338p) ISBN 978-0-8223-3017-2

The Second Amendment to the Constitution states that a "well regulated Militia" is necessary to the security of a free State, and that the "right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Today, this sparse text has sharply divided anti-gun forces (who downplay the right to arms granted in the Constitution) and supporters of the NRA (who tend to ignore the "well regulated Militia" clause). Uviller (The Tilted Playing Field) and Merkel, a doctorate candidate at Oxford, offer a fresh interpretation of the Second Amendment, aiming to recover it's original intent and to examine how the passing of time has affected the amendment's meaning and vitality. The authors' thesis is that the Second Amendment granted citizens an individual right to bear arms, but only in the context of their obligation to protect the community by serving in the state militia. The militia was designed to counterbalance a national standing army, which experience had shown carried a threat of despotism by the central authority. Over the 200 years since adoption of the Second Amendment, as the authors explain in detail, the militia has disappeared from the American scene. Thus, they argue, the Amendment's right to bear arms, intelligible only in relation to the militia, has "simply fallen silent in the midst of the tumultuous debate on the issue in today's world." In its seriousness of tone, abundant citation of sources, and careful discussion of opposing schools of thought, this presents a powerful case for declaring the Second Amendment irrelevant to the issue of firearms in America. (Feb.)

Forecast:Due to its law review style, this title probably won't enjoy broad popular appeal. It would be surprising, however, if the book were not picked up for review by national publications.

Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 02/01/2003
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