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. Saul Cornell asserts both are wrong in this discussion of his book A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America (the only comprehensive history on the topic).
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 the Reconstruction Era South. He concludes with a description of modern Second Amendment case law and recommends ways to approach the issue in a post-Newtown America.
Professor Cornell is the author of two prize-winning works in American legal history. He is one of the nation’s leading authorities on early American constitutional thought. His work has been widely cited by legal scholars, historians, and has been cited by the U.S Supreme Court and several state supreme courts. Professor Cornell has also been a leading advocate of using new media to teach history and is the author of a new American history text book, Visions of America. This path breaking book uses visual materials to illustrate the competing visions that have shaped American history.