political theorists like James Harrington. Adherents of”civic-republicanism,” who certainly included many major American thinkers of the time, were almost paranoically fearful of governmental corruption, seen most strikingly, according to Americans at least, in the British government of George al overthrown by the revolutionaries. An important aspect of civic-republicanism was an emphasis on citizen-militias as a potential check on a corrupt and untrustworthy government. Indeed, a primary debate among academics concerns the meaning of the Amendment’s introductory clause, with its emphasis on a “well regulated Militia.” Who was the “Militia”? Many Americans, including civic-republicans, defined the “Militia” as consisting of all well-behaved citizens; they distinguished between the general militia and a “select” militia that was indeed organized by the state. Uviller and Merkel do not really disagree; instead, they conclude that “the concept of the militia embedded in the Second . Amendment has so radically changed over the centuries since its adoption that the right to arms, constructed to serve it, is fundamentally deactivated…. [T]he word ‘militia’ as written in the Second Amendment has no referent and hence no application in the United States today.” Of course, contemporary members of “militia” movements, justifi ably feared by political liberals, would beg to disagree, claiming that the contemporary state is already teetering on the edge of, if not falling into, the kind of corruption that justified armed revolt in 1775. I have no desire to defend these latter-day militia members, though Carl Bogus, in his introductory chapter reviewing the revisionist literature, describes me as an “insurrectionist” inasmuch as I have indeed suggested that the best way to understand the original political impulses behind the Amendment is indeed as a “tip of the hat” to the possibility of armed overthrow of corrupt government. One need not support latter-day militia movements to concede that they are drawing on what even Uviller and Merkel agree is a strong thread of American thought. Many participants in the debates about guns could not care less about the kinds of questions examined by most of the constitutional law scholars on either side of the issue; these scholars, including myself, only minimally discuss the issues of public policy that are raised by attempts to regulate guns or the more crass political implications of one or another position on gun control. \(For what it is worth, insofar as I have publicly expressed some doubts about “gun control” legislation, my reasons have far more to do with the potential impact on the prospects of Democratic candidates for office than for any need to be faithful to the views of our constituPolicy aside, the following are several questions that participants in the scholarly debate over the Second Amendment should be asking: I. Was there a consensus view of firearms in the 18th century? One of ‘the casualties of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War was the so-called “consensus” approach to American history, as increased emphasis was placed on the presence of conflicting traditions of American thought. Moreover, as American historians turned to the often closely textured study of social groups, it became increasingly difficult to credit any generalizations about the American past. Not only were farmers different from urban dwellers, but Scotch-Irish farmers in the South were also considerably different from Scandinavian farmers in the North. Indeed, one had to distinguish between Swedes and Norwegians or German Catholics and Lutherans. And so on. I thus have little hesitation in accepting the attacks of very fine historians like Jack Rakove \(who won a richly deserved Pulitzer Prize for his book on the framing of the Constitution, or Paul Finkelman on the nave notion that American thought of the 18th century was unified around a positive view of firearms as a way of maintaining political liberty. They bring together strong evidence that many .tni.ericans, including those who were members of the Congress that drafted the Amendment, had only disdain for the “general militia” and, consequently, had no desire at all to protect an individual right to possess firearms. But, of course, this does not begin to establish the proposition that there was a consensus on behalf of that position. All one can confidently say is that Americans differed in their views. It may be, for example, that revisionists the prevalence of the civic-republicanism described above. It is scarcely the case, though, that that strain of thought 1/18/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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