Over at the New Yorker, Jill Lepore [above] seems to think that struggle for gun rights began in the 1960s. “The debate over the Second Amendment has been fierce and terrible, with bad arguments on both sides, and bad will all around. It began in the nineteen-sixties, when there was a great deal of violence, and much concern about it. It took another turn on Friday when, at the N.R.A.’s annual meeting, in St. Louis, Newt Gingrich said, “The Second Amendment is an amendment for all mankind.” I’m not sure how big a “turn” it took when Newt pointed out that self-defense is a human right . . .
In fact this was no big surprise for any of us hard-line civil rights nuts who believe that the Bill of Rights does not grant rights to people, it merely protects their pre-existing, God given, natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional rights
But Jill continues with another dubious claim:
As I write in this week’s New Yorker, no amendment received less attention in the courts in the two centuries following the adoption of the Bill of Rights than the Second, except the Third (which dealt with billeting soldiers in private homes). It used to be known as the “lost amendment,” because hardly anyone ever wrote about it.
Given their current sad state, I’m guessing that the Ninth and Tenth Amendments got pretty short shrift too, but we’ll pass lightly over that to get to the meat of her paragraph:
The assertion that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to own and carry a gun for self-defense, rather than the people’s right to form militias for the common defense, first became a feature of American political and legal discourse in the wake of the Gun Control Act of 1968, and only gained prominence in the nineteen-seventies.
So it is Jill’s contention that prior to the middle of the 20th century no one thought that the right of the people to keep and bear arms meant just what it said? The whole concept of people having a right to carry a weapon for self-defense was somehow a foreign idea?
Perhaps Jill could explain then why that very idea showed up in Pennsylvania’s state constitution in 1776?
That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state;
Or Vermont in 1777:
That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State
Or back to Pennsylvania in 1790:
The right of the citizens to bear arms in defence of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.
That the right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.
That the rights of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.
That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves …
Indiana 1816 :
That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves …
Every citizen has a right to bear arms, in defence of himself and the State.
Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state.
That every citizen has a right to bear arms in defence of himself and the state.
… that their right to bear arms in defence of themselves … cannot be questioned.
Okay, perhaps we have beaten that dead horse enough. But Jill continues making serious errors in her “timeline”:
[In his 1989 essay] Levinson also discussed what is called an insurrectionist interpretation, in which the Second Amendment is thought to allow for a militia of armed citizens standing “ready to defend republican liberty against the depredations” of a government become tyrannical . . .
The tragedies at Waco in 1993 and in Oklahoma City in 1995, both of which involved a modern militia movement, brought the insurrectionist interpretation of the Second Amendment to the public’s attention and prompted vigorous critiques.
Jill is not the only one who maintains that the insurrectionist interpretation of the Second Amendment is a modern invention; the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence [sic] has an Insurrectionism Timeline which begins in 2008. Ignoring the insurrectionist rhetoric which was flying around the colonies in the late 1700s we need only go to Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural speech to hear the classic:
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.
Fast Forward 100 years and we have another example as quoted in Guns Magazine:
CERTAINLY ONE of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. This is not to say that firearms should not be very carefully used, and that definite safety rules of precaution should not be taught and enforced. But the right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.
And just what reactionary politician said this? None other than Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN).
I could continue to dissect Jill’s polemic, but it is all too apparent that she is just another reality-rejecting anti, spouting off her ilk’s talking points with no concern for accuracy or, apparently, truth. I leave you with what Jill had to say on that subject to Tufts Magazine back in ’06:
I teach my students the importance of evidence. [emphasis theirs] The past isn’t a random set of conversations among scholars about what they think. It’s about what we can learn from the evidence at hand.