“Half Cocked”: The Persistence of Anachronism and Presentism in the Academic Debate Over the Second Amendment

Cornell, Saul | January 1, 2016

James Lindgren’s recent forward to The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology’s 2015 symposium on “The Past and Future of Guns,” purports to be a neutral and scholarly account of the current state of the debate on the meaning of the Second Amendment. Lindgren’s introductory essay fails to achieve both of these goals. Rather than survey the pre-Heller scholarship in a comprehensive and even-handed manner, Lindgren provides a distorted and superficial account of the historical literature. He compounds this error by ignoring the vast post-Heller scholarly literature, failing to note that much of this recent body of scholarship has been deeply critical of Heller, and has generally vindicated the work of the historians he criticizes. Indeed, the evidence he himself offers in defense of his interpretation actually undercuts his claims about the meaning of the Second Amendment. Lindgren’s essay does not chart a path forward in this contentious debate, but proffers an incomplete and analytically flawed account of the Founding Era’s understanding of this important provision of the Constitution.