Framing the Second Amendment: Gun Rights, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
69 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2019 Last revised: 7 Aug 2021
Date Written: August 6, 2021
How we label, characterize, and frame constitutional rights matters. In constitutional discourse, advocates and commentators have variously referred to the Second Amendment as a “collective,” “civic republican,” “individual,” and “fundamental” right. In public discourse, gun rights advocates have defended the right to keep and bear arms on “law and order” grounds, while gun control proponents have urged regulation based on “public health,” “human rights,” and other concerns. These frames and concepts have significantly influenced how the right to keep and bear arms has been debated, interpreted, and enforced. This Article focuses on two common frames gun rights advocates have used to construct realities, identify grievances, motivate supporters, and ultimately influence the meaning of the Second Amendment. Advocates have framed the right to keep and bear arms as a civil right primarily concerned with equality values and opposed to discriminatory treatment of gun owners and gun rights. Gun rights advocates have also developed and deployed a civil liberty frame that warns of impending disarmament, loss of liberty, and tyrannical government. Framing the Second Amendment in discrimination and disarmament terms has deeply affected gun rights discourse and lawmaking. This Article focuses on the vocabulary of arms in order to better understand how advocates in gun debates generate and use frames, what effect they have on discourse and lawmaking, and how they affect the Second Amendment’s meaning. As Americans seek answers to the problem of gun violence, the framing of the Second Amendment is an illuminating place to look.
Keywords: guns, civil rights, civil liberties, arms, second amendment, frames, constitutional culture
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