A University of Arizona professor who teaches constitutional law said he believes the Second Amendment does not grant citizens the right to own guns, that the right spelled out by Founding Fathers to “keep and bear arms” applies only to well-regulated militias.
Chad Westerland, an associate professor of political science and associate director of the School of Government and Public Policy, recently told the Arizona Daily Wildcat that “the Second Amendment is not clearly written.”
“It doesn’t say you have a right to carry a gun; there’s a right to bear arms that’s connected to maintaining a well-regulated militia.”
Subsequently contacted by The College Fix, Westerland said he was quoted accurately and stands by his statement in the campus newspaper.
Westerland was quoted in a student’s editorial calling for increased gun control in the aftermath of the mid-September Navy Yard mass shooting, which left 13 people dead.
Westerland, a popular professor among students, teaches undergraduate courses in American constitutional law, law and social change, and judicial process, as well as graduate courses on American politics and statistical methodology.
In an interview with The Fix, Westerland declined to state his personal beliefs on gun control or whether citizens would be able to own guns if he were in a leadership position.
The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
In explaining his academic interpretation, he said only since 2008 have individual Americans been granted the right to keep and bear arms, citing the landmark 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller, which abolished gun bans.
So it was the courts, not the framers, who recently gave citizens that right, he said.
He also referred to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in McDonald v. Chicago to note that an individual’s right to keep and bear arms was not applied to the states, via the Fourteenth Amendment, until three years ago.
Westerland said that his interpretation of the Second Amendment is mostly a matter of personal preference and study, as he comes from a family of gun owners, though he does not personally own any firearms.
When questioned about the National Rifle Association and its lobby efforts, Professor Westerland said that he does not condemn their beliefs and respects their right to have a presence in the gun control debate.
As for the NRA, statements on their website appear to refute Westerland’s interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.
The advocacy group notes that “some people claim that there is no individual right to own firearms.”
“However, anyone familiar with the principles upon which this country was founded will recognize this claim’s most glaring flaw: in America, rights–by definition–belong to individuals.”
The website cites several Founding Fathers to that end: Thomas Jefferson: “No free man shall be debarred the use of arms”; Patrick Henry: “The great object is, that every man be armed”; Richard Henry Lee: “To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms”; Thomas Paine: “(Arms) discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property”; and Samuel Adams: “The said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.”
Fix contributor Katie Jones is a student at the University of Arizona.