The Phages of American Law

50 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2005

See all articles by James Ming Chen

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law

Gil Grantmore

Jurisdynamics Network


September 11, 2001, changed the world. Exactly five weeks later, the individual right theory of the Second Amendment received its greatest boost ever. In United States v. Emerson, 270 F.3d 203 (5th Cir. 2001), the Fifth Circuit opined that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals ... to privately possess and bear their own firearms. This decision may have been the first prominent pronouncement on civil liberties by the federal judiciary after September 11.

This article explores emerson in a larger legal and real-world context. It explores the constitutional implications of treating gun ownership as a protected individual right. First, recharacterizing the chief law enforcement officers of the states as members of the militia enables Congress to command them to execute the Laws of the Union. U.S. Const. art. I, Section 8, cl. 15. Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997), which struck down the Brady Bill, should be reconsidered and perhaps overruled. Second, Emerson's underlying logic suggests that the Second Amendment should not be incorporated against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, insofar as the individual right theory rests upon an expansive definition of militia, Emerson portends the recognition of a stunningly fecund font of federal police power.

Shifting from legal doctrine to empiricism, this article then explores a singular contradiction of the individual rights theory's underlying assumption that widespread gun ownership deters violence. Federal law has historically imposed a comprehensive gun-free zone on one of the principlal channels of interstate commerce: air travel. Nothing in the United States' hastily revamped security matrix permits, let alone encourages, civilian travelers to arm themselves. Commercial aviation therefore challenges the idea of public security through widespread deployment of personal firearms. If total civic disarmament not only promises but actually delivers freedom from violence, broad gun ownership - to say nothing of its protection through constitutional law - loses much of its appeal.

As a legal matter, Emerson establishes a modest new civil liberty in exchange for an expansive congressional power. Civil aviation in practice subverts the individual rights theory's approach to public safety. The leading threat to American security today comes from terrorism and asymmetrical warfare. September 11 changed our perspective on private violence and its place in the American constitutional scheme. Neither that scheme nor September 11 justifies the treatment of private gun ownership as a pillar of national security.

This is the way the law ends This is the way the law ends This is the way the law ends Not with a whimper but a bang.

This article was written under the pseudonym Gil Grantmore.

Keywords: September 11, Second Amendment, individual rights theory, gun control, airports, Emerson, Printz, fascism, microbiology, bacteriophages, viruses, terrorism, civil liberties, militia, Osama bin Laden, Ashcroft

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming and Grantmore, Gil, The Phages of American Law. UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 36, p. 455, 2003, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-22, Available at SSRN:

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

Gil Grantmore

Jurisdynamics Network ( email )

c/o Jim Chen
648 North Shaw Lane
East Lansing, MI 48824
United States


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