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A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America Paperback – August 4, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0195341034 ISBN-10: 0195341031 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


"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

About 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (August 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195341031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195341034
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.7 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Really a fascinating history.
B. Lindquist
Ever other amendment in our original Bill of rights was a right against the state, not a proclamation of a civic duty.
Kevin Currie-Knight
The conclusion aside, it is a book well worth reading.
The Pantologist

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
The "right" views our second amendment "right to keep and bear arms" as a right of private citizens to own whatever weapons they choose. The "left" sees this right as only valid if used for militia purposes (and, thus, practically obsolete in today's very militia-less US). Historian Saul Cornell has written a book that suggests something of a middle ground: the second amendment, Cornell tells us, was largely borne of a belief that standing armies should be avoided and, therefore, owning arms was necessary as a civic duty to ensure that state militias could exist. Thus, the second amendment did not preclude the government from regulating firearm possession, but only precluded them from disallowing firearm use.

The author goes through history in attempt to prove his thesis. In the aftermath of the American revolution, he notes, there was a palpable fear among the people of the nation having a standing army during peacetime. Militias made up of citizens were the equivalent of an army then, and to ensure that they continue and remain effective, states had an interest in making sure individuals were armed, but also in regulating what those arms could be and could be used for. States could also call on citizens to fight on behalf of the state (a form of conscription).

The author also suggests that the second amendment owes its existence to the anti-federalist writers whose key rationale for a right to bear arms as a fear of the national government obliterating state militias by banning ownership of arms to the common man. Through a variety of court cases, the author suggests, Jeffersonian judges gradually changed the meaning of the amendment into a more individualistic granting of freedom to anyone to possess any weapon for any purpose.
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57 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Monty Rainey VINE VOICE on July 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Someone finally gets it! The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights has long been the root of great controversy and debate. One side declares the intent to be that of insuring a well regulated militia with no regard for individual rights. It seems this school of thought would have us believe that "the people" referred to by the framers are not the same as "the people" regarded in several other of the Amendments. The other side stands firm that the Second Amendment squarely and firmly guarantees the right of individuals to arm themselves.

For decades now, the problem has been that, to a degree, both sides are wrong. The Second Amendment, thanks to Patrick Henry and many other anti-federalists, makes the right to bear arms a "civic right" or duty. The anti-federalists rightly feared the liberal rights guaranteed government by the Constitution and sought to protect the citizenry by giving citizens a civic obligation to arm themselves. A WELL REGULATED MILITIA: THE FOUNDING FATHER'S AND THE ORIGIN OF GUN CONTROL IN AMERICA by Saul Cornell, has finally brought the facts to light.

Though they were not victorious, we should give thanks daily for the tremendous influence the anti-federalists had. Their foresight has come to fruition in America. They envisioned the Constitution as giving too much authority to the various branches of government and taking too much away from the individual states. They feared an overpowering judiciary, which quickly came to exist when the Marshall Court far overstepped its' authority in Marbury v. Madison. The states received their biggest blow from a runaway federal government at the conclusion of the Civil War with the advent of the Fourteenth Amendment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Finck on March 4, 2015
Format: Paperback
"I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them."
George Mason
Co-author of the Second Amendment
during Virginia's Convention to Ratify the Constitution, 1788

"Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence … from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable … the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that's good."
George Washington
First President of the United States

"And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the Press, or the rights of Conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; …"
Samuel Adams
quoted in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, August 20, 1789, "Propositions submitted to the Convention of this State"

"A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves …"
Richard Henry Lee
writing in Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic, Letter XVIII, May, 1788.

"The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full posession of them."
Zachariah Johnson
Elliot's Debates, vol. 3 "The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution.
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