Saul Cornell, Unbiased Researcher

Professor Saul Cornell of Ohio State University and I have had our differences before. Back in February of last year Prof. Cornell (then associate professor) published an op-ed in a number of papers that lit my fuse, so I fisked it, and sent him a link to the post. To my surprise, he responded. I was surprised that he responded. I was not surprised by the response. In March I received a nice email from a student at OSU who had penned a story for the school’s alternate student paper, The Sentinel, entitled Something’s Fishy at the John Glenn Institute, noting that the “Second Amendment Research Center” at the John Glenn Institute was established with a $400,000 grant from The Joyce Foundation. It’s a good piece.

The Geek with a .45 has done a lot of research on the Joyce Foundation and who and what it supports. That’s worth a read, too.

Anyway, it looks like the good Professor is still earning his grant money, as Rob Smith has discovered yet another op-ed by that unbiased historian, entitled Reconstructing the Second Amendment. Let us fisk:

Reconstructing the Second Amendment

By Saul Cornell
History News Service

Few issues in America are more controversial than guns. Yet even among hot button topics in American public life there is something perverse about the dynamics of the debate over guns.

Only since we’ve figured out that your side intends to disarm us, the law-abiding. Controversial, yes, but I don’t consider it “perverse.” Interesting choice of word though, don’t you think?

Polling data for decades have shown that most Americans favor stronger gun laws. Indeed, surveys demonstrate that such policies are even supported by most gun owners. Yet pundits and political soothsayers have written off this issue because it is perceived to be a loser at the polls.

That’s because the issue IS a loser at the polls. Yes, when interviewed with generic questions most people say they want “more effective gun laws,” (who wouldn’t?) but almost every time your side proposes a specific “next step” the response at the ballot box is “Not THAT!!

Gun rights and gun control have long histories. Although both sides in the great American gun debate have claimed to have history on their side, each has presented a version of the past that is highly selective.

True, to some extent.

One of the many embarrassing truths about the debate over the right to bear arms that neither side wishes to admit is that gun rights ideology is the illegitimate and spurned child of gun control.

Au contraire, mon ami. One of the most embarrassing truths about the debate over the right to bear arms is that gun control is the illegitimate and spurned child of racist laws designed to disarm blacks after the Civil War. Want to discuss that topic? I believe I mentioned that in the initial rebuttal to a Saul Cornell op-ed.

Efforts at gun control, particularly policies aimed at broad-scale prohibitions of firearms, have generally led to an intensification of gun rights rhetoric and activism.

You don’t say. I can’t imagine why “broad-scale prohibition” would raise our ire. Is that the “perverse” reaction the professor was alluding to?

Understanding the history of this tangled relationship, one of American history’s more bizarre examples of ideological co-dependency, may provide some insights into how we might move this debate forward and break this cycle.

Hmm… perversion and co-dependency. Interesting how the professor – of history – is couching his argument in terms of abnormal psychology, isn’t it? Do you think he’s implying anything?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent summit on gun violence reminds us that this is not the first time in American history that gun violence and gun control have been on the minds of New Yorkers. DeWitt Clinton, mayor from 1803 to 1815, bemoaned the problem posed by handguns almost 200 years ago.

Yes, I believe DeWitt Clinton fought a duel in 1802, shooting his challenger, John Swartwout, once in the thigh and once in the ankle. (They exchanged five shots during the duel.) I imagine he had some interesting things to say about gun violence and gun control. Too bad Prof. (of history) Cornell didn’t bother to tell us any of them. As to New York and gun control, the thing that comes immediately to my mind is New York’s 1911 Sullivan Law that made it mandatory to get a permit from the police to possess a handgun in the city. You have to wonder just who it was they were trying to disarm, don’t you? And were they successful?

Well, if Mayor Bloomberg has found it necessary to hold a “gun summit,” 95 years after the passage of that law, it would appear not. So that “next step” would seem to be San Francisco’s “broad-scale prohibition,” wouldn’t it? It’s worked so well in Washington D.C.

As long as there have been guns in America there have been regulations governing their use and storage.

Really? Use, yes, but storage?

Without government direction there would have been no body of Minutemen to muster on the town greens at Lexington and Concord.

Minutemen who brought their own guns from their own homes where how they were stored was no business of the government? What was that argument again?

If the Founders had imbibed the strong gun rights ideology that drives today’s gun debate we would all be drinking tea and singing, “God save our gracious Queen.”

This is the thing about Prof. Cornell that just floors me. He attempts to invert reality in his op-eds, counting that his position as an “authority” will convince the ignorant. In the first piece I fisked the good Professor insisted that it was “activist judges” who were responsible for “striking down existing gun laws,” and that returning to the original understanding of the Second Amendment in his words, “goes well beyond the idea of interpreting the Constitution as a living document that must respond to changing times.” Now, according to the esteemed Professor, if the Founders had really believed that citizens should have the right to keep and bear arms, we’d have lost the Revolutionary war!

I have to wonder what color the sky is in Professor Cornell’s world. Green, probably. That Joyce Foundation money must be really impressive. (Actually, I think the Professor really thinks like this regardless of where his grant money comes from, but I’m sure he’s more than happy to have it.)

Ironically, the Second Amendment does not prohibit robust gun regulation, it compels it.

Let’s see what the Second Amendment really says:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

So, if we change the language to say “A well-read populace, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and carry books, shall not be infringed,” it compels “robust regulation” of the possession (and storage) of books?

I don’t see it. But then, I don’t live in Prof. Cornell’s topsy-turvey world, either. Ironic, isn’t it?

Today’s gun rights ideology is antithetical to the original understanding of the Second Amendment and only emerged in the 19th century when individual states began passing the first gun control laws to deal with the new problems posed by hand guns.

No, today’s gun rights ideology is antithetical to the gun control laws first passed in the 19th century that were written to deal with the new problems of armed free black citizens. Let me quote Chief Justice Taney from his late 18th century decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford again:

(Citizenship) “would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.” (My emphasis)

Let’s see, the Chief Justice gave a pretty good list of the rights of citizens in the United States that were protected by the Constitution, didn’t he? But Prof. Cornell wants you to believe that the laws passed that were intended to disarm blacks were actually in response to the introduction of handguns. (Even though handguns had been around since long before the 18th century.) Just like he wants you to believe that if the Founders had really believed in a right to arms, we’d have lost the Revolutionary War.

I’m not buying, Professor.

There is much to be learned from America’s first gun violence crisis and the first gun-control movement.

I’ll say. And it’s not the bilge you’re selling.

It is not surprising that during that struggle gun rights supporters tried to lay claim to the Second Amendment by reinterpreting it as an individual right of self-defense.

Um, sorry. Professor, you’re supposedly an historian. Haven’t you heard of St. George Tucker and American Blackstone, his 1803 (that’s 19th century ante-bellum) legal text? A text that came out during the same period in which DeWitt Clinton lived and fought his pistol duel? Quoting Tucker on the Second Amendment:

This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty. . . . The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction. In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorise the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.

St. George Tucker, arguably one of the greatest authorities on American law during the period immediately after Ratification understood the Second Amendment as a protection of the individual right of self-defense, and the individual right of the possession of arms.

Yet the good Professor of HISTORY insists that no, no! That’s a modern reinterpretation of the Second Amendment! A reinterpretation that “goes well beyond the idea of interpreting the Constitution as a living document that must respond to changing times.”

Again, I’m not buying. I’m experiencing deja moo – I’ve heard this bullshit before.

This argument continues to be effectively employed by opponents of gun regulation.

Perhaps because it’s true?

Modern gun-control proponents have generally been embarrassed by the Second Amendment, viewing it as an anachronism.

As beautifully described by a real student of history, Law Professor Sanford Levinson in his 1989 Yale Law Journal paper The Embarrassing Second Amendment where he wrote:

I cannot help but suspect that the best explanation for the absence of the Second Amendment from the legal consciousness of the elite bar, including that component found in the legal academy, is derived from a mixture of sheer opposition to the idea of private ownership of guns and the perhaps subconscious fear that altogether plausible, perhaps even “winning,” interpretations of the Second Amendment would present real hurdles to those of us supporting prohibitory regulation. Thus the title of this essay–The Embarrassing Second Amendment–for I want to suggest that the Amendment may be profoundly embarrassing to many who both support such regulation and view themselves as committed to zealous adherence to the Bill of Rights….

Such people as Professor Saul Cornell, who must twist himself into a logical pretzel to make the arguments he keeps making – and getting published across the country on the basis that he’s a professor of history, and must therefore be an unbiased and informed voice only interested in educating the hoi polloi.

Early proponents of gun regulation did not make the same mistake. Rather than dismiss the Second Amendment as a remnant of America ‘s revolutionary past, they venerated it, reminding their opponents that the Second Amendment was about an obligation citizens owed to their government and communities to contribute to public defense.

No, they couched their arguments in terms of “public safety” while nudging and winking at each other because their intent was merely to disarm blacks and other minorities – in direct violation of the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.

They also staked out another right that has not been much talked about recently in this debate: a right to be free from the fear of gun violence.

Yes, this is a new topic – the “right” to be free – not of “gun violence,” but the fear of it.

A right to be free of fear. Who thought that one up?

What does all of this mean for the contemporary gun debate? Proponents of gun control must not demonize gun owners, particularly given the fact that most gun owners support reasonable gun regulation. Any solution to America’s gun problem must have the support of gun owners.

Read: “We must confuse and trick them into giving up what they will not otherwise yield willingly.”

Rather than abandon the Second Amendment and dismiss it as a relic of another era, supporters of gun regulation need to reclaim this part of our constitutional heritage.

“Just so long as, you know, we don’t acknowledge that it actually protects anything.”

Supporters of regulation need to point out that liberty without regulation is impossible. The right to be free from the threat of gun violence deserves as much respect as the right to bear arms.

Tell me, Professor, do I have a “right” to be free of the fear of, say, cancer? The “right” to be free of the fear of man-made pollutants? The “right” to be free of the fear of car accidents? The “right” to be free of the fear of being the victim of a violent crime committed with a weapon other than a firearm? The “right” to be free of the fear of a planet-killing asteroid? Global warming? Alien abduction?

Rob Smith has it absolutely right:

I have just one question: Why is it that the more imaginary “rights” people invent, the less personal freedom I have?

And why didn’t the Salt Lake Tribune note that Prof. Cornell was also Director of the Second Amendment Research Center at the John Glenn Institute at Ohio State University?

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