THE SECOND AMENDMENT IN LAW AND HISTORY: Historians and Constitutional Scholars on the Right to Bear Arms

Carl T. Bogus, Editor, Michael A. Bellesiles, Contribution by, Michael C. Dorf, Contribution by . New Press $24.95 (358p) ISBN 978-1-56584-699-9

There are two opposing theories about what the Second Amendment was designed to protect. Over a century of federal court rulings have established that it guarantees the right to bear arms within an established (i.e., formal and public) militia. The first law review article asserting an individual's right to own firearms for self-defense (or sport) did not appear until 1960, and yet the balance has swung in the individualist direction, with Republicans, gun lobbyists and even high-profile liberals endorsing that view. This lucid 10-essay collection by historians and legal scholars soberly takes on the entire revisionist anti–gun control project. Setting the stage, Bogus and Robert Spitzer analyze its history of logic and legal scholarship. (Spitzer focuses on how student-run, non-peer-reviewed law journals are vulnerable to producing bodies of error-filled work.) Pulitzer winner Jack Rakove (Original Meanings) and Paul Finkelman argue that the amendment's original intent was to mediate state and federal power over militias, while Michael Bellesiles (Arming America) explores late 18th-century gun control. Steven Heyman explains how the natural law tradition supports a collective rather than an inalienable individual right. The most powerful essays take dead aim at the practice of "law office history," whereby quotes and passages favorable to the individual rights side are excerpted without regard to a document's larger context. This outstanding discussion will appeal mainly to those most passionately committed to the issue of gun ownership, but it will inform discussions in the media on a heated subject. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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