RIP Don Kates, Second Amendment Pioneer

Don B. Kates, a pioneer in the revival of the Second Amendment, has died at 75. Eugene Volokh writes in the Washington Post that 

Don wrote “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment,” 82 Mich. L. Rev. 204 (1983), the first modern article in a major law review arguing for the individual-rights view of the Second Amendment, and since then he wrote or co-wrote over 15 more law review articles, as well as writing, co-writing or editing four books. His work has been heavily cited both by courts and by scholars.

His writing career may have begun with Inquiry magazine, published in the 1970s by the Cato Institute. His article “Handgun Control: Prohibition Revisited” appeared in Inquiry’s second issue, December 5, 1977. For some reason that piece appears to have been excerpted in the Washington Post three years later.

Libertarian movement historian Brian Doherty expands on his seminal influence:

As explained in an excellent 2014 essay on Kates’ contributions to modern Second Amendment thought by California-based gun law scholar C.D. Michel, “Kates was a nearly lone voice in the constitutional law wilderness….Kates’ work, both as a constitutional scholar and criminologist….largely ignited the counter revolution against the American gun control movement” by arguing and demonstrating that the Amendment was certainly intended to protect an individual right to possess weapons.

Kates’ article became an ur-source to later articles by more academically well-connected authors, such as Sanford Levinson’s 1989 Yale Law Review article “The Embarrassing Second Amendment,” that spread the new understanding of that Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to the more liberal side of legal academia.

As Michel notes, “All the scholarship that Kates indirectly ignited eventually fueled legal briefs filed before the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller.”

According to Wikipedia, Kates grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and later attended Reed College and Yale Law School. During the Civil rights movement, he worked in the South for civil rights lawyers including William Kunstler, an experience that informed his understanding of the need for armed self-defense. After three years of teaching constitutional law, criminal law, and criminal procedure at Saint Louis University School of Law, he returned to San Francisco where he practiced law and began writing on criminology and guns. Dave Kopel has more on his background and influence here.

Watch Don Kates talk about gun control in this 1989 speech at Libertarianism.org.