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The Founders' Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms (Independent Studies in Political Economy) Hardcover – April 18, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
The U.S. Supreme Court's recent hearing of arguments in District of Columbia v. Heller—which may overturn the capital's ban on handguns—signals a general re-evaluation of the Second Amendment. The trend is toward an unlimited individual right rather than a restricted, collective one applying only to government militias. Halbrook, a research fellow at the Independent Institute in California, is firmly of the former school and investigates the nature of the ideas underlying the Second Amendment during the Revolutionary generation (between 1768 and 1826). How did the founders regard the issue of gun control? What prompted them to define the right to bear arms as fundamental, second only to freedom of speech? Basing his research on contemporary newspapers, political resolutions and private correspondence, Halbrook delves deeply into the importance of firearms during the Revolution, finding that attempts by search-and-seizure to control the flow of guns was regarded as the typical tyrannical behavior of a standing army. Liberty hinged on free ownership. While readers might disagree with some of Halbrook's historical interpretations, his book should be welcomed as a timely introduction to this most contentious of debates. (June)
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Stephen Halbrook's The Founders' Second Amendment is first-rate work, utterly convincing. This is a solid and important work. (Forrest McDonald )
I enthusiastically recommend Stephen Halbrook's book, The Founder's Second Amendment. This is an original and valuable approach, focusing on the place of individual ownership of firearms during the time of the American Revolution and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It will add appreciably to the scholarship on the origins and meaning of the Second Amendment. (Joyce L. Malcolm )
The Founder's Second Amendment is an impressive achievement. Halbrook shows conclusively to any honest mind, both in respect to historical evidence and analytical jurisprudence, that the Framers intended the Second Amendment not as the reserved right of a State government to organize a militia, but of the people as individuals to keep and to bear arms. In this meticulously researched and exhaustive study, Halbrook has produced what promises to be the standard work for years to come on the original intent of the Second Amendment. It will be an invaluable resource for scholars of the Constitution. (Donald W. Livingston )
Stephen Halbrook's The Founders' Second Amendment is crisply written, rich with history, and sure to be valuable to anyone interested in understanding the original meaning of the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. (Glenn Harlan Reynolds )
Like much of Halbrook's other excellent work, The Founders' Second Amendment is both well-written and full of fascinating details. It will serve as an important resource for professional scholars and interested laypersons. One especially useful aspect of Halbrook's work is that the author so consistently lets a huge variety of original sources speak for themselves. (Nelson Lund )
Historian and philosopher Stephen Halbrook is the single most prolific researcher on the Second Amendment, having contributed literally dozens of scholarly articles on various aspects of the subject. The Founders' Second Amendment masterfully both extends and summarizes his (and others') research. It is the last word—the single most comprehensive work on the thinking of the Founding Fathers' era about the constitutional right of citizens to be armed.
(Don B. Kates )
The subject of The Founders' Second Amendment is currently 'front-and-center' as a 'hot' and major controversy. Well researched and well presented, Halbrook's book has brought forward a substantial amount of new research, not redundant of what others have provided, and this book will find a solid place among leading works on the subject. (William W. Van Alstyne )
A timely introduction to this most contentious of debates. (Publishers Weekly )
The book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to form a knowledgeable opinion on the meaning, application and reason behind the Second Amendment. (New American )
The depth and detail added to source material quotes makes this a fine pick for both college and high school collections strong in American history and politics. (Midwest Book Review )
[Halbrook] covers the Second Amendment's historical underpinnings from 1768–1826, and so offers readers a rich interpretive framework from which to grasp the U.S. Supreme Court's (conservative) decision in June 2008 . . . affirming the constitutional right of individuals to keep guns at home.
Stephen P. Halbrook's new book represents the most careful and well-thought-out study yet in support of the politically ascendant claim that the Second Amendment, as originally intended and understood, protects a right to own guns for purposes other than service in the lawful militia. (William G. Merkel American Historical Review )
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Top Customer Reviews
To begin with, even if you're a gun enthusiast, you may not be interested in the political and legal details that influenced the Founders in writing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This book delves into those details with enthusiasm (Halbrook is a lawyer, and a good one). Don't buy it if those would leave you cold.
For those who want the details, however, this is an excellent source. Halbrook explains in great depth the growth of the "gun culture" in colonial America, and the efforts of the British government to stifle that culture. Most gun enthusiasts probably know that the American Revolution was triggered by a "gun confiscation" mission ordered by General Gage, which led to fighting at Lexington and Concord. However, Halbrook describes the actions that led up to Lexington and Concord, from 1765 on, including embargoes on shipment of gunpowder to the Colonies, seizure of gunpowder from Colonial powderhouses, and eventually the confiscation of all firearms in Boston.
Halbrook gives only a brief treatment to the conduct of the Revolutionary War itself, except to note the importance of gunpowder smuggled in from the Dutch colony of St. Eustatia. However, the war is not his real focus. His emphasis is on how the Revolutionary War influenced the people who wrote the Constitution.
Halbrook goes into great depth on the debate over whether the Constitution should have a Bill of Rights. On the one side were the Federalists, who argued that a Bill of Rights might eventually become a ceiling over Americans' rights, instead of a floor under them. Why, the Federalists argued, should the Government be forbidden to do certain things which the main body of the Constitution gave it no power to do? The anti-Federalists, who were unhappy with the idea of strong central government in the first place, demanded a Bill of Rights as a price for ratifying the Constitution. Halbrook goes into great depth on these arguments, quoting advocates from both sides.
As it turned out, the Federalists got the Constitution they wanted, with a strong central government, but (supposedly) with only limited powers. The anti-Federalists got the Bill of Rights they wanted, although in retrospect it should be called a Bill of Limitations. Every article in the first ten Amendments is a restriction on the power of the Federal government, not a grant of rights to the citizens ("Congress shall make no law. . ."). One of the great strengths of this book is the description of how it turned out that way: who were the actors, what did they say, and how did they work for what they wanted.
The assumption behind the book, of course, is that the intent of the Founders in writing the Constitution still matters. The Second Amendment, in particular, is not a thing of "emanations from penumbras," to be interpreted by the courts according to "modern conditions," but was the work of people who had to fight for their freedom from tyranny, and who intended that the means for that fight should never be taken away from American citizens. To those for whom that assumption is still valid, the book is an excellent resource on the history and reasoning behind the Bill of Rights, and the Second Amendment in particular.
Stephen Halbrook's "The Founders' Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms" is an amazing scholarly review of the origins of 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. Out of 450 total pages, this book has over 90 pages in citations alone. For any one participating on either side of the "gun" debate today, this book in my opinion is required reading.
I admit, I like history. Especially U.S. history as it relates to the founding of the colonies, the revolutionary war, and the creation of the U.S. constitutional republic. This book describes life just prior to the revolutionary war and the oppression by the King of England. It also describes the discussions around the Bill Of Rights as they were not originally given in the U.S. Constitution but were demanded by the people at large.
What I learned:
- The text of the 2nd Amendment is to be read in two parts. The first half of the sentence preceding the comma is a politically declarative thought; the second half after the comma is an actionable statement as to what the government can never do.
- The militia was always referred to as the people at large (aka the general citizenry). Standing armies were viewed as a threat to liberty. Having an armed society was/is the best prevention to any threat and is to preserve liberty.
- Natural rights precede any government and are/were never granted by government. They are to be protected and never infringed.
- Due to the oppression by the King of England, a declaration of rights was demanded by the people of the colonies. Always included in this was the right to keep and bear arms for the natural right of self-defense from any person, persons/groups, and for hunting. "Game laws" were used to limit/subvert the rights of arms by the people.
- I agree with Thomas Jefferson in that the Bill of Rights did not go far enough to linguistically chain politicians and government down to make it difficult for the rights to be infringed upon.
- Considering the Bill of Rights discussion, I would like to find another book which goes through the entire history of Bill of Rights from each of the colonies and the debates on each side.
To my friends who are on both sides of this issue, this is a *must* read. You are doing all a dis-service by not reading it. (less)