Book Review: A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America

48 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2006 Last revised: 14 Feb 2015


Professor Saul Cornell's recent book, A Well-Regulated Militia, represents the latest addition to the ongoing debate over the nature of the Second Amendment and the American right to arms. Early Americans wrote of the right in light of three considerations: (1) as auxilliary to a natural right of self-defense; (2) as enabling an armed people to deter undemocratic government; and (3) as enabling the people to organize a militia system.

A Well-Regulated Militia does an excellent job of portraying the last, but fails to acknowledge the considerable body of historical evidence reflecting the first two. Framing-period references to the right as supporting defense of self are generally overlooked, and those relating to the political value of an armed populace are reconstrued in a militia-centric light.

Samuel Adams' references to Bostonians arming themselves against redcoat misdeeds is treated as a matter of militia resistance, when in fact Adams referred to self-protection against the soldiers' commission of street crimes. Of the four great early constitutional commentators, two are omitted; a third is acknowledged, but his writings on the right to arms as auxillary to self defense are not mentioned: instead his discussion of the Constitution's militia clause is substituted. The militia-centric view is described as the majority view of early American courts, when in fact it prevailed only in one decision. A key U.S. Supreme Court decision that described the right in individual terms is relegated to an end-note.

A Well-Regulated Militia is, in short, an excellent explanation of why the Framers wrote that A well-regulated miltia was necessary to the security of a free state. It omits, or misreads, the reasons why they did not stop there, but added on a right of the people to keep and bear arms.

Keywords: militia, arms, right to arms, Second Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Hardy, David T., Book Review: A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America. William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 15, p. 1237, 2007, Available at SSRN:

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