The Volokh Conspiracy

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Firearms Law

New Textbook: Firearms Law and the Second Amendment

Regulation, Rights, and Policy


If you are interested in arms law, you might enjoy the new textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy. The third edition, from Aspen Publishing, came out several months ago. It is coauthored by Nicholas J. Johnson (Fordham), George A. Mocsary (Wyoming), E. Gregory Wallace (Campbell), Donald Kilmer (Lincoln), and me (Denver).

Our inspiration for the textbook, whose first edition appeared in 2012, was Rutgers law professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her textbook Constitutional Aspects of Sex Discrimination. What law students learn depends on what professors can teach. Teaching depends on what textbooks exist. Although some professors do collect or write their own materials for class, most of what gets taught in law school is from textbooks. Only if a textbook on women's rights existed could women's rights be broadly studied in law school.

By 1971 there were professors who were interested in women's rights but were far from expert on the subject. They could teach it only if someone else wrote a textbook. They had neither the time nor inclination to determine which cases and materials were most important, collect and edit them, and then organize them into an orderly narrative. So Ginsburg did it all for them. She also provided her own analysis.

Now, the same process is happening for the Second Amendment. Since 2012, Firearms Law has been spurring the creation of Second Amendment classes at law schools; every year more law students learn how to incorporate the right to keep and bear arms into their legal practice. Some of those students will become criminal defense lawyers and others prosecutors. Some will become business and regulation lawyers who represent retailers or manufacturers, and others will work for regulatory agencies. More than a few will eventually become lawmakers, judges, or other leading government officers. Unlike in past generations, the new generation of lawyers includes members who are already well-educated about the right to keep and bear arms and gun control laws.

The success of Firearm Regulation and the Second Amendment has spurred two other publishers of law school textbooks to produce their own entries into what has become the growing field of Second Amendment education. One good book is Guns and the Law: Cases, Problems, and Explanation, by Andrew J. McClurg (Memphis) and Brannon P. Denning (Samford) (Carolina Academic Press 2016). The 592 page book contains ten chapters with pro/con materials on various topics. Back in 2002, McClurg, Denning, and I teamed up to write Gun Control and Gun Rights: A Reader and Guide (NYU Press), which at the time was the first book on firearms policy written for use in higher education.

The other textbook, forthcoming in 2023 from West, is The Second Amendment: Gun Rights and Regulation, by Joseph Blocher (Duke), Darrell A.H. Miller (Duke), and Jacob Charles (Pepperdine). Unlike the Firearms Law textbook, this one will not delve deep into legal history, but will instead (like six chapters in Firearms Law) examine the post-Heller legal landscape. I'm sure that a book from these three excellent scholars will be good; in our own textbook, we cite them 14 times.

Things have come a long way since Sanford Levinson observed in 1989 that the legal academy considered it "embarrassing" to think seriously about the Second Amendment. Sanford Levinson, The Embarrassing Second Amendment, 99 Yale Law Journal 637 (1989).

The Johnson et al. Firearms Law book is for readers like the Buddhist monk who walked into a sandwich shop and said, "Make me one with everything."

Firearms Law runs 2,243 pages and costs $298. However, in terms of how many words you get per dollar, it's a bargain!

Firearms Law was written for more than just the law school audience. The style is accessible to the general intelligent reader, and the textbook is also a treatise of arms law and history, from ancient times to the present. As such, it has been useful to the courts. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, when he served on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, cited the textbook, as did Judge Thomas Hardiman of the Third Circuit. The Illinois Supreme Court has cited the textbook twice. Much of the book is on the cutting edge of modern legal analysis and of legal history.

To prepare students for practice, Firearms Law extensively covers the federal gun control statutes, such as the Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act, as well as state laws.

Some of Firearms Law is available for free. The printed book is 16 chapters, and those are supplemented by 7 online chapters, which are available on the public Internet, at the book's website. These free online chapters cover issues of identity and status (e.g., race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, marijuana use, and veteran status); other nations and international issues (ancient, modern, and in-between), and an "In-Depth Explanation of Firearms and Ammunition." The printed book has a coupon for access for all 23 chapters as an integrated e-book, usable by readers who have academic email accounts.

And that's not all! Also free online for everyone is chapter 3 from the printed textbook, on colonial America. Did you know that in the English-speaking world, the first written guarantees of the right to arms were the colonial charters of Virginia in 1606 and New England in 1620? Neither did anyone else until we found out, and put the history into Firearms Law.

While the printed book is almost entirely about the United States, except for a chapter on United Kingdom history, the online chapters allow readers to explore arms law and policy the rest of the world, from ancient times to the present. The international chapters cover global and regional treaties, the United Nations, national constitutions, the classical founders of international law such as Pufendorf and Grotius, and comparative social science. (Social science about arms in the U.S. is even-handedly summarized in chapter 1 of the printed book.) The online chapters include case studies on Armenia, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ghana, the Holocaust, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela.

China is examined in great detail. Online chapter 21, Antecedents of the Second Amendment, starts with Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mencius, and their successors. The Comparative Law chapter includes 10 pages on modern Chinese arms law, and a hundred-page study of the effects of various arms policies in China and Tibet during the reign of Mao Zedong.

Firearms Law pays close attention to material culture, and how changes in arms technology have influenced arms law and policy. The technological evolution is integrated into the historical and modern chapters of the printed book, and described in depth in concluding Chapter 23, "The Evolution of Firearms Technology from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First Century."

In words of Faber College founder Emil Faber (from the movie Animal House), "Knowledge is good." We hope Firearms Law and the Second Amendment will increase knowledge, and thereby help legal education and the general public progress to ever-more thoughtful and informed examination of law and policy involving the right to keep and bear arms.