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Jan E. Dizard, Merril Muth, & Stephen P. Andrews, Jr. Guns in America : A Reader, New York University Press, New York, NY, 1999

A broad cross-section made up of forty-three essays on the historical, cultural and political issues, including many we've drawn from for this site, such as Michael Bellesiles' "The Origins of Gun Culture in the United States, 1760-1865".

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Saul Cornell Whose Right to Bear Arms Did the Second Amendment Protect?, Bedford/St. Martin's, Boston, MA, 2000

In this book, part of the "Historians at Work" series, Prof. Cornell (Ohio State University) has collected six essays (in addition to his own indroductory ones) "to expose students to the complexity of this issue through a range of unedited secondary sources written by leading scholars."

The book is intended to be used as a classroom resource and, more than simply a basis for debating the Second Amendment, as a way of looking at a wide range of issues and philosophies that helped form our nation, but serves as an excellent initial collection for those first entering the debate. (As Cornell observes, "[T}he subject of guns invariably produces strong reactions and lines of ideological cleavage," and the variety of perspectives presented is unlikely to change anyone's opinion, but it can elevate the quality of the discourse

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Akhil Reed Amar, The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1998

Amar is one of the foremost legal scholars on the Fourteenth Amendment. In this text, aimed at the serious reader (although not necessarily a law student), Amar discusses the nature of the rights defined within the Constitution -- both at the time they were framed and as the perception evolved, culminating with the Civil War and the XIV Amendment. Within that framework, he proceeds frame a theory for modern incorporation (he refers to it as "Refined Incorporation.")

This text is included here, because, woven throughout is Amar's view of the evolution of the right to keep and bear arms from the more traditional, civic right and obligation of the citizens to take part in the militia to the individual (civil) right of citizens, and especially blacks in the Reconstruction South to carry arms for their personal protection.

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Akhil Reed Amar & Alan Hirsch, For the People: What The Constitution Really Says About Your Rights, Free Press, New York, NY, 1998

As the title (and preface) note, this book is for the people, not the scholars. It may be viewed as a "Bill of Rights" lite (see previous title). Reorganized, but repeating the themes of the more scholarly Bill of Rights, Amar and Hirsch present the Consitution in terms of the primary responsibilities of citizenship -- the ballot box, the jury box and the cartridge box -- and a fourth box -- the lunch box -- the obligation of the government to provide the citizens with the wherewithal to be good citizens."

One needn't agree entirely with Amar and Hirsh, but this is an excellent presentation of finding a easily readable and understandable unifying theory of rights in the Contitution by one of the most respected of Constitutional legal scholars.

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Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 1985

Excellent review of the interaction of the variotions among the views of the founders and framers of the Constitution, as well as their understandings of what it meant to be a citizen and their views on how to develop and maintain a virtuous citizenry.

The book is an imperative read for those who believe the fifty-five men who met in Philadelphia thought in unison.

Guns and Crime
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Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins, Crime Is Not the Problem : Lethal Violence in America, Oxford Univ Press, New York, NY, 1999

The book's hypothesis, as the title announces, amply suported by case data from the United States and around the world, is that the livels of crime in this nation are not exceptional, but the level of violence associated with that crime is a serious problem.

Mixed in among the supporting evidence, which is of interest to those statistically inclined, are gems of not-so-common sense wisdom, such as this one on pg 122:

    One corollary of viewing guns as an interactive and contributing cause to intentional homicide is that societies with low rates of violent assault will pay a lower price if they allow guns to be widely available than will societies with higher rates of violence. The sanguine sound bite encountered in American debates about guns is: "An armed society is a polite society". This does not seem particularly plausible to us, but it seems likely that only a very polite society can be heavily armed without paying a high price.

    The United States of the 1990s is far from that polite society. Our considerable propensity for violent conflict would be a serious societal problem even if gun availability and use were low. But the very fact that the United States is a high-violence environment makes the contribution of gun use to the death toll from violence very much greater. When viewed in the light of the concept of contributing causation, the United States has both a violence problem and a gun problem, and each makes the other more deadly.

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Robert J. Spitzer, Politics of Gun Control, Chatham House, Chatham, NJ, 1995

Professor Spitzer has written what is, quite simply, the best summary of aspects of gun control debate available for the general public.

His book covers the policy/political situation, the history and emaning of the Secons Amendment, criminological issues and his own framework for rational gun control policy (by differentiating between the offensive and defensive aspects of various types of weapons.


Gun Lobby

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Osha Gray Davidson, Under Fire : The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA, 1998

An excellent history of the National Rifle Association, with particular attention to the lobbying efforts and tactics that have made "NRA" and "hassle factor" synonymous. Davison's recounting is objective enough to point out the flaws with the laws as proposed to ban "cop-killer" bullets and "plastic" guns. But the key emphases are on the NRA's efforts to smear opponents, such as the ongooing attacks on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and (former) San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara and to obstruct passage of the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons ban, earning it the enmity of law enforcement officers around the country and turning former Congressional allies into opponents.

A must read for anyone considering becoming involved in lobbying for gun controls or trying to understand why so few can stand in the way of so many.

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Tom Diaz, Making a Killing : The Business of Guns in America, The New Press, New York, NY, 1999

Diaz, a senior policy analyst at the Violence Prevention Center, writes about the manufacturing and marketing of firearms in the United States. While most firearms companies are privately or foreign-owned, and provide minimal data bout their operations, the author goes to great lengths to explore the strategies used to sell weapons into the essentially saturated male market and to expand the women's market and introduce children to guns.

One of the most thoroughly explored marketing efforts is the exploitation of the "Rambo Factor" that led to the coining and use of term "assault weapon" to describe semi-automatic military style weapons. Contrary to the claims of the Gun lobby, the term was not coined by those seeking to restrict such weapons -- it was used by the gun industry and gun magazine writers to call attention to the weapons' "lethal appearance".

The book also discusses, briefly but chillingly, the efforts to attract children to firearms, including advice to dealers in one industry organization's magazine that dealers should "[u]se the schools. . . they can a huge asset. Think about it. Schools collect, at one point, a large number of minds and bodies that are important to your future well-being."/1/.



  1. Diaz, quoting the Sept/Oct 1993 issue of the national Sports Shooting Federation's SHOT Business, pg 9. Back^


©Copyright, 2000, Mike Rosenberg