Michael Waldman: The Second Amendment - A Biography

WED, JUN 25, 2014 (50:56)

At a time of renewed debate over guns in America, what does the Second Amendment mean? This book looks at history to provide some surprising, illuminating answers.

The Amendment was written to calm public fear that the new national government would crush the state militias made up of all (white) adult men who were required to own a gun to serve. Waldman recounts the raucous public debate that has surrounded the amendment from its inception to the present. As the country spread to the Western frontier, violence spread too. But through it all, gun control was abundant. In the 20th century, with Prohibition and gangsterism, the first federal control laws were passed. In all four separate times the Supreme Court ruled against a constitutional right to own a gun.

The present debate picked up in the 1970s'part of a backlash to the liberal 1960s and a resurgence of libertarianism. A newly radicalized NRA entered the campaign to oppose gun control and elevate the status of an obscure constitutional provision. In 2008, in a case that reached the Court after a focused drive by conservative lawyers, the US Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Constitution protects an individual right to gun ownership. Famous for his theory of 'originalism,' Justice Antonin Scalia twisted it in this instance to base his argument on contemporary conditions.

In The Second Amendment: A Biography, Michael Waldman shows that our view of the amendment is set, at each stage, not by a pristine constitutional text, but by the push and pull, the rough and tumble of political advocacy and public agitation.

+ BIO: Michael Waldman

Waldman is President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving the systems of democracy and justice. Waldman is one of the nation’s most prominent public interest lawyers, and is an expert on the presidency, democracy and the Constitution. The Brennan Center is a leading legal voice on election law, Constitutional law, government reform and racial justice. In 2012 it helped lead the successful effort to block laws that could have made it harder for 5 million eligible citizens to vote. The Boston Globe called the Center “indispensable.” Waldman has led the Center since 2005.

Mr. Waldman was Director of Speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995-99, serving as Assistant to the President. He was responsible for writing or editing nearly 2,000 speeches, including four State of the Union and two Inaugural Addresses. He was Special Assistant to the President for Policy Coordination from 1993-95. As the top White House policy aide on campaign finance reform, he drafted the Clinton administration's public financing proposal.

He is the author of The Second Amendment: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, May 2014). Publishers Weekly called it “the best narrative of its subject.”

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