On Saturday, September 24, an unprecedented showcase of wisdom, knowledge, and insight on the Second Amendment occurred at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va.--site of the first ever "2005 Firearms Law & The Second Amendment Symposium." Sponsored by GMU's Law Students for the Second Amendment and co-hosted by The NRA Foundation and the NRA's Civil Rights Defense Fund, this day-long event was a scholarly discussion of America's First Freedom, the Second Amendment, and its historical and present day applications.
The day's sessions covered everything from the devastating role civilian disarmament played in the genocidal campaign in Sudan (David Kopel) and the racist roots of gun control in the United States (Prof. Robert Cottrol and Don B. Kates), to the latest economic study of Right-to-Carry legislation (Prof. Carl Moody), and the appalling lack of self-defense rights in Great Britain (Prof. Joyce Lee Malcolm).
Early in the program, GMU Law's own Professor Nelson Lund set the tone, noting that the term "people" as used in the Second Amendment cannot refer to "states" any more than the term "arms" refers to "the upper limbs of the human body."
Although the hosts invited more than half a dozen panelists who take issue with the Founding Fathers' intent to provide an individual right to keep and bear arms, only historian Saul Cornell of Ohio State accepted, aptly noting at the outset of his remarks that he felt like a priest attending his first Bar Mitzvah! Arguing that a historian's job is sometimes to make things more complex, Prof. Cornell suggests that the Second Amendment is really "an individual right exercised collectively," like the right to vote or to serve on a jury. But one of his conclusions at the symposium was that, today, the Second Amendment is more relevant as part of America's "culture wars" than it is with respect to public policy.
Two of the more topical points of discussion at the event centered on NRA's recent victory in securing a temporary restraining order against New Orleans' illegal campaign of gun confiscation after Hurricane Katrina, and Weyerhaeuser's corporate policy of prohibiting its employees from legally storing firearms in their vehicles in the company's parking lot in direct violation of Oklahoma state law. These were not just theoretical discussions, as the panelists who covered these issues--Stephen Halbrook in the New Orleans case and Larry Johnson in the Weyerhaeuser case--are both actively involved with the respective litigation.
Larry Johnson, counsel in the Weyerhaeuser case, told a story that illustrates just how much gun laws in Washington, D.C. have changed since his youth. While waiting for his flight to leave National Airport in the 1950s, Mr. Johnson took in many of the capital's sights--the FBI building, the Smithsonian, and even the White House--all while toting his hunting rifle. He wasn't questioned until a White House security guard saw him outside the gate cradling his rifle. Not knowing what tone the conversation would take, Johnson was surprised when the guard merely told him to open the rifle's action! It's not hard to imagine what that conversation would be like today.
Prof. Bob Cottrol and other experts addressed the issue of firearms and civil rights; Prof. Cottrol argued that the Second Amendment served three purposes: 1) defense of one's self; 2) defense of the state; and 3) defense of one's self from the state. Prof. Cottrol also added a bit of levity, describing himself as a Humphrey Democrat who supports "issuing ‘gun stamps' so poor people can have access to quality firearms."
The inaugural "2005 Firearms Law & The Second Amendment Symposium" was a success, and as Eric Swartz, President of GMU Law Students for the Second Amendment noted, it is an event they hope to repeat every year. We will be sure to keep you updated on future plans to organize the 2006 symposium--and we would encourage law students to contact NRA-ILA for assistance in starting similar groups on their own campuses.
(Look for a more complete recap of this event in an upcoming issue of your NRA magazine--likely in January.)