Shooting Back

I thank REASON for reviewing my recent book, The Politics of Gun Control ("Shooting Gallery," December). But your reviewer Jacob Sullum perpetuates an array of common errors often found in the gun debate. For example, he considers significant the fact that "a number of liberal constitutional scholars" say that the Second Amend ment "is not null and void." Not only is the liberal label those analysts apply irrelevant to their analysis, Mr. Sullum undercuts his own credibility by giving such credence to self-identified liberals.

Mr. Sullum also disputes my dismissal of the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford , insisting there is value in the case's passing reference to keeping and bearing arms. Bearing in mind that the old-style militias still existed in the pre-Civil War era, Dred Scottwas overruled by constitutional amendment after the war. Yet even if it were still good law, it was not a Second Amendment case; moreover, the reference was dicta, not law. It is therefore an irrelevancy. On the other hand, Mr. Sullum ignores what is relevant--four Supreme Court cases and over a dozen lower federal court cases--that confirm that the Second Amendment pertains only to service in a government-organized and regulated militia. This is one controversy that has been long settled.

Finally, my book does not give "short shrift" to opposing views, but rather offers the most comprehensive look at the subject to be found in print. By accepting the hunting and sporting tradition, I make clear that I oppose "disarm[ing] gun owners." The whole basis of my argument is that gun control gridlock can only be broken when a pledge to oppose disarmament by control supporters is met with a reciprocal pledge from c ontrol opponents to accept a limited degree of arms control. Most of the nation's gun owners already support such a proposition.

Robert J. Spitzer
Professor, Political Science
SUNY Cortland
Cortland, NY

Jacob Sullum responds: The fact that some eminent constitutional scholars who were predisposed to be skeptical have embraced the individualist understanding of the Second Amendment is not decisive, but is intriguing. A person of ordinary curiosity would want to know what evidence and arguments convinced them. Similarly,20 Dred Scott v. Sandford does not settle the issue, but it gives some indication of how leading 19th-century jurists viewed the right to keep and bear arms. (In this connection, Professor Spitzer still seems confused by the distinction between citing the case as a binding legal precedent and citing it as historical evidence.) As for the Supreme Court cases that deal more directly with the Second Amendment, Professor Spitzer is well aware that their meaning and relevance are matters of dispute. Even if the Court had clearly and unequivocally declared the Second Amendment a nullity, we could argue about whether the case was properly decided. But as his reference to the Flat Earth Society makes clear, Professor Spitzer is unwilling to concede that his opponents have something worthwhile to say. In this context, his call to compromise--based on the reassurance that "we have the right to disarm you, but we won't"--is a non-starter.

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