Date Thesis Awarded

4-2015

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

Government

Advisor

Joel Schwartz

Committee Member

Jackson Sasser

Committee Member

Chinua Thelwell

Abstract

The Second Amendment is traditionally understood within the bounds of originalism, a method of Constitutional interpretation that calls on founding-era history as a means of ascertaining original meanings of the Constitution. Both proponents and opponents of gun regulation appeal to this history as a means of justifying their respective viewpoints – the former assumes an ‘individual right’ reading of the Amendment, while the latter maintains a ‘collective right’ interpretation. In this project, I describe the origins of the Second Amendment and its original context, affirming Saul Cornell’s ‘civic right’ interpretation, against both the individual and collective rights interpretations. I illustrate the link between the civic right and the civic republican paradigm under which the Amendment was originally understood. I posit that society has lost its civic republican elements, gradually adopting liberal individualism, and given that the Amendment was embedded specifically within the civic republican paradigm, any attempt to abstract meaning from the Amendment and apply it to a modern context breaches commitments to originalism. I ultimately propose that a serious originalist would support the repeal of the Second Amendment, given the impossibility of reconciling originalist commitments and societal paradigm shift.