Dodge City in the late 1800s with sign leading into town that reads "Carrying of Fire Arms Strictly Prohibited." Kansas Historical Society Image
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While the pursuit of knowledge in any discipline is a worthy endeavor unto itself, there are certain majors plenty of parents bemoan when their kids declare them either because of limited income potential or even more limited opportunities to actually find gainful employment (especially when the cost of college is factored in). Journalism, which was my choice at a time when newspapers and magazines still ruled the media landscape, was my choice and my dad tried everything short of forbidding me to pursue it, even pointing out what low starting pay journalists made. His arguments didn’t sway me, but he wasn’t wrong! My yearly salary for my first job with a weekly newspaper in 1992 was less than $17,000, crappy and borderline poverty level even back then.

Other seemingly and financially dead-end majors include degrees in literature, philosophy, social work, English, psychology, performing arts, counseling, education and history. Most lead only to paths in eventually teaching, which typically isn’t at the forefront of income generation, and while the world still needs all of the above, it can be tough going for anyone with champagne tastes…or merely a desire to live like everyone else and pay their bills.

But one of those areas of study, may be getting a little boost of late. National Public Radio (NPR) reports that historians, have oddly been in greater demand since the 2022 ruling by the Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen declared that gun laws must be consistent with American tradition, making that a litmus test for whether new gun laws will past legal review under challenge.

Says NPR: “Historians have found themselves caught in the middle of America’s debate over gun control ever since the Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that firearms laws must be consistent with American ‘tradition.’”

The article goes on to say:

“What’s happening now is a fight over what the Second Amendment ultimately means,” says Chuck Michel, president and general counsel at the California Rifle & Pistol Association, which is suing the state over newly passed limits on concealed firearms. “This truly is a historic time for Second Amendment jurisprudence.”

Bruen has also created sudden, intense interest in research from people such as Brennan Gardner Rivas, an independent scholar who wrote her dissertation on the history of gun regulation in Texas.

“The states and attorneys general who are trying to defend their gun laws from challenges now have to seek out historians to identify analogous historical laws,” Rivas says. “They’ve all found me on their own through Googling me and looking up my publications and things like that.”

Rivas, who has consulted on more than a dozen cases since the landmark Bruen decision, says her work is a mixture of analyzing digitized collections of historical state laws, while also seeking out the “dusty archives” that might contain forgotten local or municipal ordinances. She says a prominent example of this was the ban on carrying guns in Tombstone, Ariz. — a ban that sparked the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in 1881.

“I’m just always floored by how many regulations there were” in early America, Rivas says. “It seems like the more we dig, the more we find.”

The results of this kind of research have been collected in the Repository of Historical Gun Laws, maintained by the Duke Center for Firearms Law.

“It’s a searchable database that now is up to over 2,000 historical gun laws stretching from the medieval ages in England all the way up to about the 1920s or 1930s, which is when the federal government began to regulate firearms,” says Andrew Willinger, the center’s executive director. The repository was opened to the public in 2019.

They note the real wave in gathering historical information on gun regulations began with the landmark Supreme Court case of District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Second Amendment was finally declared—to the “no duh” of gun owners across the nation—to protect an individual’s right to possess a firearm.

Despite these rulings, as the gun law and ultimately culture wars rage on in America, there is always someone “fer it and agin it,” meaning there’s always people looking to interpret issues in ways that benefit their own beliefs.

Patrick J. Charles, who received a grant from an anti-gun group Everytown for Gun Safety to help fund his research for his book, Vote Gun: How Gun Rights Became Politicized in the United States, says in the NPR article that it isn’t difficult to find examples of laws that restricted firearms throughout history. But even so, that alone may not be enough.

“There’s plenty of laws out there — that’s not the issue,” Charles told NPR. “The [Supreme] Court said, ‘History and tradition.’ So, if I find two or three laws, the other side says, ‘That doesn’t constitute a tradition, because it’s just two or three laws.’”

Gun rights lawyers, such as Chuck Michel with the CRPA, that courts are correct in being very strict on which historical laws to consider.

“Before, we used to have junk statistics. Now we have this battle for junk historians,” Michel, was quoted in the article as saying. “The history that the states are putting out there is distorted, it’s twisted, it’s taken out of context. It’s not completely cited.”

Junk history or not, junk historians or not, the fact is it’s a good time to be a historian who specializes in firearms law, use, tradition and history thanks to Bruen. As the saying basically goes, “those who fail to learn their history are doomed to repeat it,” but in some cases, that’s not always a bad thing.

Check out the full NPR article here. It’s an interesting read.

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55 COMMENTS

  1. “teaching, which typically isn’t at the forefront of income generation”

    For a leasurly 8m a year job with Cadillac benefits. Drive thru the teachers parking lot of a public school and count the # of late model SUVs. The “problem” of the feminist teachers today is they want to divorce their husband/be single and still have an upper middle class lifestyle. Unlike decades ago. And the quality of teachers today is pathetic compared to 75yr ago when women who went for work outside the home were nurses of teachers. Attracted the cream of crop into both.

    • “Drive thru the teachers parking lot of a public school and count the # of late model SUVs.”

      And like everywhere else, you can count on maybe 2 fingers exactly how many of those are being purchased v leasing, which allows many people to “live” above their means. A perpetual payment is pretty common now among vehicle users. Not many are able to tack a $700 car payment on top of a $2500 house payment, along with layers of credit card debt, etc. (Turn up Tennessee Ernie Ford’s tune here…) For those who don’t know, he had no ties with FOMOCO. $70K + for a decent F150? No, thanks.

      • A friend ran the numbers years ago and has been leasing cars ever since.

        He says, “You’re always going to have a car payment unless you don’t have a car.” He factored in depreciation, maintenance, and repairs, plus he gets to enjoy a newer, nicer vehicle than he could by purchasing. For him, it makes sense. For me, it doesn’t.

        • Wait a gol-durn minute…

          (opens up the Haz spreadsheet, looks up the Haz household cars and the oh-so-detailed records on them)

          Bought our two vehicles brand new years ago. Paid them off quickly and have maintained them ever since. The math on my spreadsheet shows that the current total cost (that’s everything together, including registration, gas, maintenance, insurance, etc) is only $350/mo. That’s the total cost of ownership for two vehicles in great condition. I recently did a math “what if” scenario and found that even if I start spending $4000 per year in repairs from here on to keep them running forever, it would still be less than half the total cost of ownership of buying new models. Spend $2000/yr and it’s about a third.

          And we own them. No bank, no dealership, no lessor.

        • Never made a car payment in my life. Also, never owned a new car. It’s a choice but it is not the difference between having a car and not having a car. It does help a bit if you know a thing or two about cars before you go out shopping.

        • Having to always make car payments every month (never paying them off) is part of what keeps the poor man poor.

        • That’s funny. I’ve never had a car payment and never bought a new car, yet somehow have two perfectly good cars, and a nice older truck for towing and hauling.

        • I bought a new car 10 years ago. Paid it off in 2 years. Since then, I have bought oil and a filter for it about once a year and I have replaced a couple of light bulbs. That’s it. If he values driving a different car all the time, I guess he doesn’t mind “making a car payment every month.” Not the lifestyle I want to live either.

      • Well way prior to Bruen I was the lone wolf saying, Gun Control History Matters. And for my effort I received numerous gutless remarks from certain gun talking blowbags. I was even lectured by LKB about needing a laundry list of crap to present my case to a court. To make a long story short it was of all people CA Gun Control zealots who laid the History of race based Gun Control on the table as seen in the vid. Of course citing Gun Control History backfired on the CA dumbbells because Judge Benetiz was not kkk enough to fall for their obvious impromptu race based arguments. I have always contended any court worth spit would raise eyebrows when the History of Gun Control is laid on the table…now with CA it does not matter who does it as long as it gets done.

  2. Expert shopping has always been a thing.
    A stupid thing that highlights how wholly arbitrary and biased our entire system is and always has been.

    • As I have seen elsewhere, no historians were needed for the Supreme Court to decide the 2A means what it says, yet we still have “historians” talking about gun laws that fall outside of the time frame established by SCOTUS, or wholly reprehensible racist/discriminatory laws. Funny how the left will (still) embrace racism if it suits them.

      Its equally disgusting that judges are so partisan they will twist every word written down to justify restricting the freedom so clearly explained as being endowed upon us.

  3. Yes. Individual towns had laws against carry in town limits. But there were no restrictions on types of firearms you could buy. Including artillery and Gatling guns.

    No waiting periods. No background checks and mail order.

    If we apply history to the gun laws I should be able to mail order a machine gun to my house. No questions asked.

    • And this is exactly why both Bruen and Heller are deeply flawed. SCOTUS keeps dancing around the fact that rights are absolute; that there are no permissible limits to their free exercise. Apparently all of our so called Constitutional eggspurts can’t seem to understand this simple concept.

      • But they aren’t. They clearly state FOUNDING ERA laws. What these pathetic hacks (although kudos to them for making money off of scum) fail to do, and ultimately tend to fail in court due to, is realize the time frame SCOTUS laid down. They can’t beat it, so they pretend to ignore it. Just like the “and” between dangerous and unusual. Government has actually tried to argue by replacing and with or. That is an act of desperation.

        Essentially no gun law or act will survive the scrutiny it will eventually get if SCOTUS composition doesn’t change. Or if miraculously, somehow, any more inferior judges realize they are on the wrong side of the issue.

  4. I admit to being somewhat ignorant about the laws of Dodge City and other towns back in the day in their attempts to violate the rights of peaceable citizens in regards to firearms.

    Just curious how they would have responded to multiple people on soap boxes vigorously, convincingly and inspiringly give public rebukes to such anti-liberty laws and embarrassing the authors and enforcers of such “laws” as incompetent tyrannical men of small mind and manhood?

    • At that time Dodge City was a cattle shipping railroad town. The Texas drovers who had herded the cattle up a long dusty trail were generally young and had money to spend on whiskey and women, in short, have a good time. To make some noise, fire some shots. The ‘entertainment’ part of town was south of the railroad track, and the track became the ‘deadline’ for carrying firearms.

  5. Justice Thomas distinctly stated that by “historical” he meant laws in existence at the time of the passing of the 2nd Amendment. He did not in any way infer anything after that as qualifying as “historic”.

  6. IMHO herein lies the flaw of the Bruen “historical Tradition of firearms regulation” and in Heller, Scalia’s “in common use” tests. They are absolute BS. I’ll say this once – Rights are absolute. All stop. Period. No limits may be placed upon the exercise of a right. Now, if through that exercise, you harm others, then certainly limits or punishment is reasonable and IMHO Constitutional. We don’t ban words to prevent their potential misuse. Yes, you can yell fire in a crowded theatre when none exists. And it would be fitting to be punished for doing so. The entire idea of justifying why restrictions are not permitted is ridiculous.

    • You’re right Gman, but consider: The fools are looking to early pioneer, settlement, and territorial law for their justifications. Upon being admitted to the United States, as a state, all of those laws were trashed, and the Second Amendment took precedence over all.

      • That part is often omitted for some reason. Also 17k back in 92 would be close to 38k now, not great but hardly poverty outside of NY or similar.

      • “The fools”
        “There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent.”
        ― Lao Tzu
        It is easy (and lazy) to think of the other side in this war for our rights as fools. The anti-gun and generally anti-Constitutional left is playing the long game and they know this is a war. Keep that in mind Sir Paul.

        • Well they know it works. We forget there is a war when we win “decisive” battles then go on complacently oblivious to the other side setting the next stage of the battlefield with more twisted rules of engagement. Bringing back investigations of anti civil rights groups and non-american influences with public announcements of findings might (small chance) help. But I fear the more absolutist minded may get their wishes fulfilled.

    • “IMHO herein lies the flaw of the Bruen “historical Tradition of firearms regulation” and in Heller, Scalia’s “in common use” tests. They are absolute BS.”

      Absolute BS? “In common use” is *why* they will never be able to ban semi-auto rifles…

      • “In common use” is *why* they will never be able to ban semi-auto rifles…”

        Depends on what “is is”. Have seen reports that the gun-grabbers want to describe “In common use” to mean not numbers, but frequency of use for self-defense. And they will set the standard for the term “use”.

      • Sam,
        Never say never, ever.
        And how would new firearms ever become “in common use” if they attack them as they become available? This test is B.S. The “of efficacy to the military” used in Miller provides the correct trajectory. Every time SCOTUS creates a new “test” for constitutionality the left will find another way around it. It’s what they do. Rights are absolute; no “test” required.

        • “And how would new firearms ever become “in common use” if they attack them as they become available?”

          That is the point of the change in meaning of “in common use”. If a firearm is not used in great numbers (amount to be determined case-by-case) of DGUs, such firearm is not “in common use.”

          Your question about how could new fire arms be produced and sold, because they would need time to become “in common use”, is quite interesting.

  7. Betcha Prof. Clayton Cramer is one BUSY dude these days :).

    He’s our absolute best. The guy that dismantled Michael Bellesiles. Author of “Racist Roots of Gun Control” which is an absolute must-read even 30+ years later.

  8. This ain’t rocket surgery, people. The Founding Fathers had history of their own to reflect upon. They knew very well that the disarmament of the people was always a prelude to the oppression of those people. They wrote the Constitution, and the Second Amendment, in clear language. The people are to be armed, and shall not be infringed. A prefatory clause to that clear statement confuses people who want to be confused, and want to confuse other people. One does not need to be an historian, or any other type of scholar to understand the clear language of the Second. The Founding Fathers wrote in clear, understandable language, comprehensible to the common man. Unlike other nations that sought to cover all their bases in order to oppress their own people, our forefathers wrote in common vernacular, taught and written in schools at the time. They didn’t resort to writing the constitution in Latin, like a bunch of doctors and lawyers, they wrote in clear, easy to understand English.

    Anyone who fails to understand “Shall not be infringed” is a dishonest SOB who wants to enslave you.

    The difference between a free man and a slave is the right to bear arms. Ask any black slave from our country’s early history.

    • “The difference between a free man and a slave is the right to bear arms. Ask any black slave from our country’s early history.”

      Not true. Plenty of non-slaves, AfrAm or otherwise, have had their 2A trampled in our history. And even the in-state applicability of the federal 2A has varied–before 14A, some states claimed powers over rights enumerated in the BoR such as RTKABA.

    • “A prefatory clause…”
      I take exception to the use of that word. The introductory statement (not clause) to the 2nd Amendment provides “A” reason the founders thought the right was important. To use the term “clause” implies a limit; and it is not. SCOTUS in Miller (1939) cited the introductory statement to mean that arms of efficacy to the military are specifically protected for the militia and thus the People. The left claims the introductory “clause” means the right to keep and bear arms is collective and dependent upon participation within a well regulated militia. The Constitution is not, and can never be used or construed as, a limit upon the People. It was written by the People to tell the federal Government what it can and cannot do. THE only operative words in all of the 2nd Amendment are “the right”. Why? Because this language clearly acknowledges the pre-existence of our rights and that they are not granted and thus may not be taken. By using the term “the right” a reader must then ask the question, from whence dost it come?

      • A “clause” is nothing more than a semantic construct.

        “A group of words containing a subject and a predicate and forming part of a compound or complex sentence.”

        • In legalese a clause implies a proviso. Plus, this term is used by the left when addressing the introductory statement to the 2nd Amendment. The left makes up terms and we should not argue against them using their terms.

      • I believe in the early days of militias you had to have a firearm before you could be a member because they did not have the ability to furnish you with one because of the lack of a funding source. They were not funded initially by Government, I believe, as we do our military today.

    • “The difference between a free man and a slave is the right to bear arms…”
      I would instead proffer: The difference betwixt a citizen and a subject…

  9. The Bruen decision created a lot more job possibilities since it was rendered than Biden has created in all of his political career.

  10. I find it difficult to revel in the Bruen decision. It is as flawed as Heller and most SCOTUS decisions. The root cause of the problem, the entire reason we are here again and again and again, is that the left simply doesn’t care about what is right or wrong or Constitutional or not. They will relentlessly continue their attacks; as that is their game plan. Nothing short of SCOTUS providing a single sentence decision reading “What part of shall not be infringed don’t you fkg understand” will ever stop them from crafting new and amazingly twisted legislation designed to take decades to wander through our broken court system. Even Scalia was wrong; there are no limits to rights. Yes, I agree the landscape is getting better, but for all the wrong reasons.

    • You are seeing two distinctly separate things. Bruen was not intended to deal with this nations communistic Democrat left. That decision was about the validity and scope od the 2nd Amendment. The refusal of Democrats to adhere to Constitutional law will need to be handled through a different means.

    • “I find it difficult to revel in the Bruen decision. It is as flawed as Heller and most SCOTUS decisions.”

      Seriously?

      The two-test standard being reduced to one test, the text and history, is inferior to what we had before, that allowed “because guns are bad”, to be a reason to deny our rights?

      Are you stoned, son? 🙁

      • “In common use” is *why* they will never be able to ban semi-auto rifles…”

        Think he is pointing to the Second Amendment makes owning fire arms to be an absolute right, among others. Thus any standard of review is impermissible.

  11. in the Founding Era, which is certainly before the Civil War, there were very few firearms laws.

    The laws of the English and US laws that were enacted after the Founding Era don’t pass the Bruen history and tradition test.

  12. I studied history in college and have had a life long love of American history. I am particularly interested in our founding fathers and their writings that tell us their specific beliefs and intents. All of the so called experts on the anti gun side some how fail to read anything by our founders or else they would not be trying so hard to twist the meaning if the 2A. Just a little bit of cursory reading of their writings tells us that indeed, they meant exactly what 2A says in plain English, no legalese, no implied intent. They meant “SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED”.

    “Who are the militia? are they not ourselves. Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American…The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” – Tench Coxe

  13. Tombstone’s Ordinance #9. Was aimed directly at a group of men known as the “Cowboys”, known for rustling and other criminal activities. When they rode into town, “Check your guns, pick them up when you leave.” City (incorporated 1881) residents, virtually ignored. Marshall Virgil Earp was the one responsible for the ordinance, after Marshall White died.

    (The OK Corral? Currently, three reenactments daily. Note: for safety reasons, the shotgun used in the show has chamber inserts and actually fires .45 blanks.)

  14. Historians would be more in demand (or atleast should be), if not for the same political bent that has almost destroyed science.

  15. I’m very comfortable saying I know more about the history of the foundation of the 2A, than most people with a PhD.
    These “professional” historians are going to look very foolish in the future. A person who has attended an Apple Seed training session, learns more than these “historians” get in 4 years at a university.

    A grand total of two paragraphs are given to the discussion of the second amendment. In the law books in this country.

    A homeschooled child knows more than these “tenured professors” about the 2A.

    • Short and sweet:

      From the English “Bill of Rights”, 1689.

      “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;”

      This was how the law on ‘arms’ stood in 1776 in the English colonies in north America.

      The Founding Fathers retained it and strengthened it. No mention of religion. No distinction between rich and poor. And comparing the final four words of each: “as allowed by law” became “shall not be infringed”, that’s the major difference.

  16. I find this article rather funny sine the ATF who regularly violates the Constitution of the United States is complaining that the AG of Arizona is not following the law as well. What goes around comes around and of course since it is their OX that is getting gored, they are in a snit about it. Doesn’t bother them to harass FFLs with their zero-tolerance policy or many of their recent rule changes. But let someone do the same to them and listen to then holler. That Department should be abolished along with the FBI, IRS, and HS since they have all been weaponized against American Citizens. Perhaps they will be dismissed in another fashion if the Texas Border situation escalates out of control.

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