This enlightening, meticulously researched essay explores America’s love-hate relationship with guns. Constitutional scholar Adam Winkler sees extremism and misunderstanding on both sides of the debate. In this history of the US Constitution’s Second Amendment – framed in the context of the July 1976 District of Columbia handgun ban – he paints the National Rifle Association (NRA) as an extremist group and Democrats as out of touch with gun owners. getAbstract recommends Winkler’s overview, which weaves in history and often-overlooked but salient facts. However, readers looking for solutions to America’s mass shootings or for remedies to gang violence will find none here. Winkler shrugs off notions of large-scale gun control as wishful, utopian claptrap.


An Individual or a Collective Right?

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution holds a vaunted place in American culture, yet its true meaning remains vague. The amendment reads, in its entirety: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Those words are maddeningly ambiguous, yet advocates on both sides of the gun control debate believe they know precisely what the amendment means. Gun rights supporters say the Second Amendment forbids government interference of any sort and guarantees unfettered gun ownership. Gun control advocates say the words don’t address individuals’ right to arm themselves, only the state’s ability to marshal a National Guard or similar force. For decades, an unclear, 1939 US Supreme Court decision guided federal courts, which sided with gun control proponents and furthered the only-a-militia view of gun rights.

“Nuts” and “Grabbers”

Despite massacre after massacre at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School and elsewhere, “gun nuts” resist any laws that would make it more difficult...

About the Author

Adam Winkler is professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

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