Armed in America: A History of Gun Rights from Colonial Militias to Concealed Carry – CHARLES (THT)

CHARLES, Patrick J. Armed in America: A History of Gun Rights from Colonial Militias to Concealed Carry. New York: Prometheus Books, 2019. 558p. Resenha de: BABITZKE, Cari S. The History Teacher, v.52, n.3, p.524-526, may., 2019.

Patrick J. Charles opens this new synthesis of the history of firearms rights and advocacy with a warning to scholars: if historians of firearms and gun rights politics in the U.S. adhere to the accepted principles of scholarly inquiry, the contours of the debate and the field must shift. According to Charles, far too much historical work on firearms has been “principled on legal advocacy, political activism,” and “expanding the meaning and the scope of the Second Amendment as broadly as possible” (p. 15). Rather than abandon the field to these alternative histories, Charles draws on his own lengthy career in legal history alongside new research into source materials such as hunting and shooting magazines, newspapers, and manuscript collections to understand the evolution of gun rights politics and rhetoric and the rise of the “Standard Model” interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Charles begins by narrowing the temporal boundaries of the debate over the Second Amendment. After the Civil War, the majority of Americans reached a consensus regarding access to arms—namely, that “state and local governments maintained broad police powers to regulate dangerous weapons in the interest of public safety…so long as they did not utterly destroy the armed citizenry model of the Second Amendment,” without encroaching on the individual’s right to armed self-defense in “extreme cases” (p. 313). This consensus fractured during the second half of the twentieth century, as firearms advocates—notably in organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA)—pushed for a more expansive reading of the Second Amendment. According to Charles, from 1970 to 1980, a substantial amount of this advocacy included the active recruitment of academic scholars to develop and promote a literature reworking the historical meaning of the Second Amendment. This academic push culminated in a new “Standard Model” of the amendment, claiming protection for personal firearms ownership uncoupled from its longstanding connections to militia service and civic republicanism. From 1980 to 1999, Charles argues, studies funded by the NRA and other gun rights organizations effectively revised the field, substituting the Standard Model for the militia-centric understanding of the Second Amendment (p. 280).

At the turn of the twenty-first century, proponents of the Standard Model received a major boost when Attorney General—and NRA member—John Ashcroft modified the Department of Justice’s longstanding position on the Second Amendment.

According to Charles, once the DOJ shifted its position on the Second Amendment, the Standard Model became accepted in federal courts. In United States v. Emerson (2001), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first appellate court to adopt the Standard Model. In 2008, the Supreme Court waded into the debate, taking up District of Columbia v. Heller. In its majority opinion, the Court sided with the Standard Model, interpreting the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to own firearms. And finally, in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), the Supreme Court applied the Standard Model of the Second Amendment to the states.

Armed in America makes two important contributions to scholarship and teaching on the gun rights debate. In his chapter, “The Birth of the Gun-Rights Golden Age,” Charles examines the late twentieth-century rise in advocacy, offering a concise yet thorough timeline for the interpretive shift in the Second Amendment and important changes in the national legal structure regarding individual firearms ownership. This chapter provides integral information to students interested in the evolution of the legal right to arms in the United States.

But Charles offers a second teaching tool. While presenting this history, he keeps the process of scholarly inquiry front and center. To educators engaged in scholarly training, this book serves as a keen example for budding scholars.

Charles’ research project is front and center—developing a research question; understanding the state of the field and his place therein; locating and using primary sources—and he acknowledges his challenges in working with such a contentious subject and the ever-present reality of today’s gun politics.

Cari S. Babitzke – Boston University.  Acessar publicação original



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