The Supreme Court and the Battle for Second Amendment Rights
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Wine & Cheese Reception: 5 PM
Program: 6 PM - 7:30 PM
Q&A to follow
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The Independent Institute, 1319 Eighteenth Street, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20036
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Stephen P. Halbrook
Research Fellow, The Independent Institute; Author, Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms.
Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law, George Mason University
In 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling on the Second Amendments individual right to keep and bear arms in Heller v. District of Columbia. Now the question remains whether this right must be recognized by the States and their political subdivisions. In March 2010, McDonald v. Chicago was argued before the Court, and now we await another historic decision from the bench. Will the Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted after the Civil War in part to protect the Second Amendment rights of freed slaves against state and local deprivation, prove to be the guarantor of civil rights that its Framers intended? Join constitutional scholar and attorney Stephen P. Halbrook and Nelson Lund, Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law at George Mason University, as they discuss the guarantees that are on the cutting edge of what it means to take the Bill of Rights seriously.
Securing Civil Rights
Halbrook touches two hotly contested issues in American constitutional history. It is a contribution to both the Second Amendment debate and the incorporation controversy over the extent the Fourteenth Amendment applies the Bill of Rights, and especially the right to bear arms, to the states. . . . Halbrook has written a book that contributes significantly to our understanding of the linkage between the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. Although his primary concern has been to bring back the Second Amendment from a moribund state in American jurisprudence, Halbrooks efforts also shed considerable additional light on broader questions.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, there was an outpouring of discussion of the Second Amendment in Congress and in public discourse, as people debated whether and how to secure constitutional rights for newly free slaves. See generally S. Halbrook, Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, 1866-1876.
In his thorough analysis of Congressional debates Halbrook makes quite clear the point that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment saw Second Amendment guarantees as essential to the political liberty of the individual American citizen.
The Heller Court also analyzed post-Civil War case law and commentary to conclude a key purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to ensure freed blacks had the right to keep and bear arms. Id. at 2810-11; see generally Stephen P. Halbrook, Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, 1866-1876.
[Halbrook] provides overwhelming evidence that the Fourteenth Amendment was meant to protect the right of individuals to be armed and that this particular right was a major concern of its framers. He offers scholars in the field a wealth of quotations from the historical debates. . . . Above all, Halbrook helps restore the historical record of a badly served constitutional amendment.
Halbrooks book demonstrates that many proponents and opponents clearly understood that the Fourteenth Amendment would impose the first eight amendments as limitations on the states. Halbrook does an impressive job of gathering evidence not only from the speeches of Bingham and Howard before, during, and after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, but from a variety of other members of Congress, from newspaper coverage, and from law books of the day.
[T]his is a valuable book that should be useful to those who claim to take the Constitution seriously. . . . Halbrook is a talented and indefatigable advocate in the cause of firearms rights, who reads the evidence for all it's worth, and sometimes more. . . . Halbrook's evidence seems quite adequate to establish that if the Privileges or Immunities Clause was meant to incorporate the substance of any of the individual privileges and immunities in the Bill of Rights, it was certainly meant to protect the individual's right to keep and bear arms.