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The Mythic Meanings of the Second Amendment

The Mythic Meanings of the Second Amendment: Taming Political Violence in a Constitutional Republic

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The Mythic Meanings of the Second Amendment
    Book Description:

    The Second Amendment, which concerns the right of the people to keep and bear arms, has been the subject of great debate for decades. Does it protect an individual's right to arms or only the right of the states to maintain militias? In this book David C. Williams offers a new reading of the Second Amendment: that it guarantees to individuals a right to arms only insofar as they are part of a united and consensual people, so that their uprising can be a unified revolution rather than a civil war.Williams argues that the Second Amendment has been based on myths about America-the Framers' belief in American unity and modern interpreters' belief in American distrust and disunity. Neither of these myths, however, will adequately curb political violence. Williams suggests that the amendment should serve not as a rule of law but as a cultural ideal that promotes our unity on the use of political violence and celebrates our diversity in other areas of life.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12755-3
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book is about the power of constitutional stories to tame the political violence that shapes our lives together. I begin with two very different stories familiar to almost all Americans. They mark out the poles of a continuum of attitudes: we trust the government to use violence against popular uprisings, yet we also distrust it; we trust the people to use violence against the government, yet we distrust them; in short, we believe in revolution, yet we also believe in order.

    Here is the first story: In 1776, the United States of America created itself in a great act...

  5. PART I The Framers’ Constitution
    (pp. 15-20)

    For some time, the bulk of commentary on the original meaning of the Second Amendment has been divided into two camps: the individual rights school, which reads the provision as a guarantee of an individual right to arms, and the states’, or collective, rights school, which reads the provision as a protection for state-run militias. The division between the two camps has become stark, hostile, and creedal. Each side repeats its arguments and cites its proof texts with unfailing enthusiasm. Even though each school includes scholars of great stature, some in each camp claim that all their opponents lack intellectual...

  6. PART II The Mythic Second Amendment Today
    (pp. 97-101)

    In the Constitution, the Framers left us a particular myth about the domestication of violence. By a myth, I refer to a thought structure, usually in story form, that organizes and inculcates part of a culture’s belief system. In the Second Amendment and Article I, the Framers inscribed this legal myth: under ordinary circumstances, Congress should suppress rebellions in the name of the people; sometimes, however, the government becomes corrupt, and then the Body of the People should make a revolution. Fundamentally, this story is about unity under conditions of violence: acting for the people as a whole, Congress suppresses...

  7. PART III. Reconstructing a Constitutional Organization of Violence

    • 8 The Silent Crisis
      (pp. 261-280)

      My discussion has traveled far across the mythic landscape of the Second Amendment, from past to present. Now at the end, the journey has brought us to a point of silent crisis. Every constitutional order must seek to tame political violence. The Framers bequeathed a particular mythic structure for that task: the people acting directly through the universal militia, checked and balanced by the people acting indirectly through the legislature. As my review of the modern mythic landscape has shown, however, Americans today do not generally embrace that myth, and, given the changes in U.S. demographics and values, it would...

    • 9 Redeeming the People
      (pp. 281-326)

      In constructing a constitutional organization of violence that is truer to the Framers’ view and more serviceable to modern needs, we must attend to two elements: popular unity and checks and balances. Of the two, the more difficult challenge will likely be popular unity. We are still familiar with checks and balances in our government. Indeed, we presently have a certain set of checks and balances in the organization of political violence itself: private persons and groups, a variety of law enforcement organizations, and the military all hold arms and the capacity to wreak political violence, even in stark opposition...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 327-380)
  9. Index
    (pp. 381-398)