Today the Washington Post published a front page story about changing intepretations of the Second Amendment. The piece begins with a lecture by professor Don Kates.
In 1977 at a Denver hotel, Don Kates paced a conference room lecturing a small group of young scholars about the Second Amendment and tossing out ideas for law review articles. Back then, it was a pretty weird activity in pursuit of a wacky notion: that the Constitution confers an individual right to possess a firearm.
“This idea for a very long time was just laughed at,” said Nelson Lund, the Patrick Henry professor of constitutional law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University, a chair endowed by the National Rifle Association. “A lot of people thought it was preposterous and just propaganda from gun nuts.”
More than 35 years later, no one is laughing. In 2008, the Supreme Court endorsed for the first time an individual’s right to own a gun in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The 5 to 4 decision rendered ineffective some of the District’s strict gun-control laws. And Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion echoed the work of Kates and his ideological comrades, who had pressed the argument that the Second Amendment articulates an individual right to keep and bear arms.
Kates–a liberal, civil rights attorney–published a seminal 1983 Michigan Law Review article arguing for an individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment, the same intepretation the Supreme Court endorsed 25 years later in District of Columbia v. Heller. Kates saw the crucial connection between civil rights and the natural right to self-defense–a connection most of his peers continue to miss.
Over at Libertarianism.org, you can watch one of Kates’s Constitutional jurisprudence changing lectures. Just two weeks back, we posted a talk he gave in 1989 on the history of gun ownership in America and the historical implications of the right to self-defense.