Winkler wrote about the history of guns in America. He took a sanguine approach and explained the eternal coexistence of gun rights and gun control policies in the US.
Winkler debunked several myths about American gun culture;
- Insurrection and Militia theories of the 2nd Amendment.
- Gun violence in the frontier and Wild West during the 19th century. Colonial era gun ownership to crush slave rebellions and Native Americans.
- Flip flop of the NRA on gun control in response to Washington DC’s gun law in 1976 and the Black Panthers of the 1960s. NRA’s complicated relationship with police unions. NRA’s support for armor piercing ammunition
- History of open and concealed carrying laws in the US. Racism of gun control policies and black codes during the 19th century and 20th century.
- Regulation of machine guns in response to organized crime and prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. Permit-regulation of handguns in New York state’s Sullivan Dangerous Weapons Act of 1911.
Winkler emphasized how the Heller decision recognized the individual right to own guns for self defense under the 2nd Amendment: gun ownership rights weren’t just reserved for state militias, as established in the Miller Decision of 1939.
And since nearly every state constitution already had an individual right to own guns and the 14th Amendment provided equal protection under the law, an individual’s right to own guns were protected under the 2nd Amendment with the Heller decision.
Winkler believed the Heller decision was a win for gun rights and for gun control: Scalia noted gun rights aren’t unlimited and dangerous and unusual weapons could continue to be restricted by states.
The Supreme Court ruled Washington DC’s handgun ban was unconstitutional: handguns are for common use. Winkler alleged, if Scalia ruled in favor of the militia’s right to own guns instead of the individual, the machine gun ban under the NFA of 1934 would be unconstitutional. Scalia noted handguns were for self defense of the owner’s home which leaves states open to interpret open and concealed carrying laws.
Ultimately, the Heller decision was a compromise: it answered many gun rights questions but also left many gun control questions for the states to decide. And Scalia actually used a modern interpretation of the 2nd Amendment disguised as originalism to reach his decision.
I think the Supreme Court got it right: gun rights have always coexisted with gun control. But in the years following Heller, hundreds of court cases were filed to refute gun laws and nearly all were thrown out. Winkler wrote a wonderful book here, I encourage everyone who is interested in the gun debate to read it.