The Atlantic Monthly looks into its archives for some context on the Supreme Court’s monumental decision this past week on gun ownership in D.C. v. Heller. In case you missed it, the Supreme Court ruled that Washington, D.C.’s longtime strict ban on private handgun ownership, meant to combat gun violence, violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Big deal!
One of the relevant articles dredged up is our own Professor Richard Slotkin‘s important 2000 review of Arming America, a book about the cultural significance of America’s historical relationship with guns. Blogger Andrew Sullivan excerpts a section on his blog:
The militia issue highlights a critical difference in the way American and European cultures permit violence. American culture has tended, from the eighteenth century on, to assign an extraordinary value to individual rights, desires, and property. So we came to treat weapons, and the right to use them, as we treat all forms of private property—granting the widest possible latitude of action to the owner.
Our self-defense statutes are more permissive than those of any other industrialized nation. Under English law if a person menaced with deadly force is able to flee, he is obliged to do so. American laws since the Jacksonian period have typically declared that a man may defend himself with deadly force when he has a credible belief that he is menaced with deadly force. Under this rule a Louisiana man was acquitted in 1993 after having shot an unarmed Japanese exchange student who came to his door looking for a Halloween party.
I doubt that many Wesleyan students are gun owners, but this is an interesting read regardless of your NRA status.