A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America / Edition 1

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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 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Impressive and illuminating."—Cass R. Sunstein, The New Republic

"This book can help provide much-needed context and background in light of the national debate over gun control, regardless of your personal views on the right to bear arms."—The Vermont Bar Journal

"This intelligent, carefully rendered history of gun policy in the United States...is challenging but essential reading for scholars, specialized undergraduates, and readers interested in law, criminal justice, and public affairs."—Library Journal

"If proof were still needed that the study of the Second Amendment remains a fruitful source of inquiry, Saul Cornell's new book provides it. Crisply written and vigorously argued, A Well-Regulated Militia advances an often hackneyed debate by looking beyond the original concerns of the Revolutionary era. Cornell concisely demonstrates why so many of the contemporary fictions swirling around the meaning of this vexed clause depart from its real history."—Jack Rakove, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Original Meanings

"Saul Cornell provides a wonderful, original treatment of a much discussed subject. Based on a meticulous review of American history, Cornell shows that both sides of the debate over the Second Amendment are mistaken. This is a must-read."—Erwin Chemerinsky, Duke University School of Law

"Jettisoning the rancorous partisanship and historical distortions of both advocates and opponents of gun control, Cornell recovers the lost civic dimension of the constitutional right to bear arms. The point of departure for any future, historically-informed discussion of this most controversial amendment, A Well-Regulated Militia clears the way for fresh and constructive thinking about the rights and responsibilities of gun ownership in America today."—Peter S. Onuf, author of Jefferson's Empire: The Language of American Nationhood

"With this book Saul Cornell establishes himself as a leading interpreter of the Second Amendment, and teaches us valuable lessons not only about gun control and the militia, but about the nature of American republican government itself."—Stephen Presser, Northwestern University School of Law

"A provocative alternative in the debate over the historical meaning of the Second Amendment. Anyone interested in how the right to bear arms was thought about in the early republic will need to take this book into account."—Keith E. Whittington, author of Constitutional Interpretation

"A Well-Regulated Militia offers a much-needed examination of the varied notions of the right to bear arms that have prevailed at different moments in the history of the United States. Perhaps even more important, Cornell's study challenges the static conception that often dominates public discussion of this particular constitutional provision. By tracing the competing influences of the civic, states'-rights, individual-rights, and collective-rights theories of the role of arms in American society, Cornell reveals the often overlooked republican pairing of rights and duties that defined late-eighteenth-century gun ownership."—H-Net

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: 9780195341034
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/4/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 478,831
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Saul Cornell is 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


Introduction 1

Chapter 1 English Tyranny versus American Liberty: Bearing Arms in Revolutionary America 9

Chapter 2 A Well-Regulated Militia: The Origins of the Second Amendment 39

Chapter 3 "The True Palladium of Liberty:" Federalists, Jeffersonians, and the Second Amendment 73

Chapter 4 Militias, Mobs, and Murder: Testing the Limits of the Right to Bear Arms 109

Chapter 5 Rights, Regulations, Revolution: The Antebellum Debate over Guns 137

Chapter 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

Notes 219

Index 262

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