A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America

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Americans are deeply divided over the Second Amendment. Some passionately assert that the Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns. Others, that it does no more than protect the right of states to maintain militias. Now, in the first and only comprehensive history of this bitter controversy, Saul Cornell proves conclusively that both sides are wrong.
Cornell, a leading constitutional historian, shows that the Founders understood the right to bear arms as neither an ...

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A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America

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Overview

Americans are deeply divided over the Second Amendment. Some passionately assert that the Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns. Others, that it does no more than protect the right of states to maintain militias. Now, in the first and only comprehensive history of this bitter controversy, Saul Cornell proves conclusively that both sides are wrong.
Cornell, a leading constitutional historian, shows that the Founders understood the right to bear arms as neither an individual nor a collective right, but as a civic right—an obligation citizens owed to the state to arm themselves so that they could participate in a well regulated militia. He shows how the modern "collective right" view of the Second Amendment, the one federal courts have accepted for over a hundred years, owes more to the Anti-Federalists than the Founders. Likewise, the modern "individual right" view emerged only in the nineteenth century. The modern debate, Cornell reveals, has its roots in the nineteenth century, during America's first and now largely forgotten gun violence crisis, when the earliest gun control laws were passed and the first cases on the right to bear arms came before the courts. Equally important, he describes how the gun control battle took on a new urgency during Reconstruction, when Republicans and Democrats clashed over the meaning of the right to bear arms and its connection to the Fourteenth Amendment. When the Democrats defeated the Republicans, it elevated the "collective rights" theory to preeminence and set the terms for constitutional debate over this issue for the next century.
A Well-Regulated Militia not only restores the lost meaning of the original Second Amendment, but it provides a clear historical road map that charts how we have arrived at our current impasse over guns. For anyone interested in understanding the great American gun debate, this is a must read.

Winner of the Langum Prize in American Legal History/Legal Biography

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this intelligent, carefully rendered history of gun policy in the United States, Cornell (history, Ohio State Univ.; director, Second Amendment Research Ctr.; The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America) explores various conceptualizations of the right to bear arms, e.g., the civic duty, the individual right, collective rights, and states' rights to control militias. He persuasively argues that the intent and wording of the Second Amendment made up a compromise, which provided states, or "the people," with a check on federal power. Serving in the militia, he asserts, was a civic duty, one "well regulated" (guns were counted, fees paid) by the states. The individual right to carry weapons was viewed as a separate right, rooted in longstanding common law rather than in the Constitution. Readers may also want to access Carl T. Bogus's The Second Amendment in Law and History: Historians and Constitutional Scholars on the Right To Bear Arms, which advances fairly similar arguments. This is challenging but essential reading for scholars, specialized undergraduates, and readers interested in law, criminal justice, and public affairs. Highly recommended.-Mary Jane Brustman, Univ. at Albany Libs., NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195147865
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/28/2006
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Saul Cornell is Associate Professor of History at Ohio State University and Director of the Second Amendment Research Center at the John Glenn Institute. An authority on constitutional history and especially on the Second Amendment, he is the author of The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America and editor of Whose Right to Bear Arms Did the Second Amendment Protect?

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Table of Contents

1 English tyranny versus American liberty : bearing arms in revolutionary America 9
2 A well-regulated militia : the origins of the Second Amendment 39
3 "The true palladium of liberty" : Federalists, Jeffersonians, and the Second Amendment 73
4 Militias, mobs, and murder : testing the limits of the right to bear arms 109
5 Rights, regulations, revolution : the antebellum debate over guns 137
6 Individual or collective right : the Fourteenth Amendment and the origins of the modern gun debate 167
Conclusion : a new paradigm for the Second Amendment 211
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