cover image The Second Amendment: A Biography

The Second Amendment: A Biography

Michael Waldman. Simon & Schuster, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4744-6

Though not likely to end controversial debates, Waldman (My Fellow Americans), president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, delivers a balanced review of the history of Second Amendment politics and jurisprudence. He goes back to colonial America to distinguish original from changed meanings of gun ownership in the U.S. It’s a story of sudden, violent rupture—continuity for two centuries, then radical transformation when the NRA, with the help of a “remarkable, concerted legal campaign,” got involved in opposing gun control in the 1970s. As Waldman shows, the idea of individual gun ownership “simply did not come up” at the Constitutional Convention, but when Madison and others wrote a muddled Second Amendment, the seeds for later confusion and claims were laid. Guns, of course, abounded, but without constitutional protection. That laissez-faire situation ended when lawyers, ideologues, and special interests, all benefiting from the backlash against cultural change after the 1960s, campaigned to change constitutional law. Its result was the Supreme Court’s notorious 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which enunciated new constitutional law—law that even some of the nation’s most conservative jurists condemned. Waldman relates this tale in clear, unvarnished prose and it should now be considered the best narrative of its subject. (June)