In Living With Guns, Craig R. Whitney, a former correspondent and editor for The New York Times, writes that he is motivated by the belief that Americans on both sides of the debate about guns can and must find common ground. He hopes to defuse the prevailing hysteria by establishing that both sides are correct in at least one fundamental assertion.
To gun-rights advocates he would say that there is indeed a personal right to bear arms, and that it actually predates the Second Amendment.
To advocates of gun regulation he endorses the core belief that gun ownership comes with a set of responsibilities. In the Colonial era the main responsibility was to serve in the local militia. Now that the militia has given way to the National Guard, there remains a responsibility to accept reasonable regulation of ownership, transfer and use of firearms.
If both the pro- and anti-gun factions today would accept this rights-and-responsibilities perspective, he maintains, then we could move beyond stalemated politics and take steps to reduce the rampage shootings, gang wars and other deadly incidents that impose such a great toll on our nation a toll made all too vivid by the massacre of young children in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.
Even for doubters of Whitneys hopeful message the book has much to offer. Of particular interest is his brief and readable history of the role of guns (and their regulation) in the Colonial era. This history provides the context for understanding what was on the minds of the Founding Fathers in drafting the Second Amendment, and for deciphering its rather abstruse wording.
Whitneys book also shows that federal courts have paid the Second Amendment scant heed. A 1939 decision upheld the National Firearms Act of 1934 (which restricted machine guns and other gangster-style weapons) based on a reading of the Second Amendment that focused on the militia clause. Thats where the matter stood in the Supreme Court for the next seven decades. But a surge of legal scholarship beginning in the 1980s developed the historical case for giving the Second Amendment a personal rights reading, and that view was eventually embraced by the majority of the Supreme Court in the 2008 Heller decision.