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A letter to progressive scholars: Second Amendment lies hurt your credibility

Dear progressive scholars,

Please, I beg you, stop mouthing the same ridiculous and wrong platitudes about the Second Amendment and dismissing the right of the American people to “keep and bear arms.”

I suspect many of you are not as foolish as you make out on this issue. You know the actual truth, or at least suspect it, but have decided to parrot the pro-gun control party line instead.

There’s a term for knowing the truth but intentionally substituting a whole other thing. It’s called lying. In academia, that can lead to all sorts of bad outcomes, as you well know.

Outside of academia, let me give you a specific example of where this is hurting your credibility.

Paul Finkelman is a historian and president of Gratz College. He is the scholar who is most responsible for knocking the late great US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall down a peg.

When the University of Illinois Chicago explained that it was removing Marshall from the name of its law school because of “the newly discovered research regarding his role as a slave trader, slave owner of hundreds of slaves, [and] pro-slavery jurisprudence,” it was Finkelman’s research that the school was talking about.

And I almost wrote him off completely.

Why? Because in doing basic due diligence, the Google pointed me to a news report of this celebrated historian talking absolute nonsense about the Second Amendment.

“The Second Amendment is about the militia. It’s about protecting the right of the states to have their own state militias if they feel they need it. It is not about the private ownership of firearms,” Finkelman said in a speech at Ohio Northern University College of Law in 2018.

This was, of course, sophistry of the highest order. Was the Secondment Amendment about the right of the states to have their own militias? Yes. Was it about the right of a people to know that the newly constituted federal government had no right to take their guns. Yes again. But Finkelman wants us to take false dichotomies for $300, Alex.

This is not a new revelation.

The legal scholar Sanford Levinson is a liberal Democrat. He published “The embarrassing Second Amendment,” arguing from significant historical evidence that the framers did indeed acknowledge an individual right to bear arms, in Yale Law Review way back in 1989.

In 2000, the Wilson Quarterly reported that “Against their own liberal political inclinations, some legal scholars have reluctantly concluded that in its claim that the Second Amendment protects individual Americans’ right to bear arms, the National Rifle Association is not far off target.”

It’s not just contrarian liberals or glass-eating conservatives who have concluded this. There has been a huge amount of historical work, by scholars with wildly different political and philosophical commitments, on the history of the Second Amendment.

The “individual rights” interpretation of the Second Amendment was an outgrowth of that historical rediscovery. It collectively led to the US Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008, which held that firearms ownership was among other things an individual right.

Scholars, please hear me on this: When I hear historians such as Finkelman saying “they” – the Supreme Court — “threw out 200 years of jurisprudence with that decision,” my gut reaction is to say, “You’re just not worth listening to, professor, about any subject. You’re either lazy or you don’t particularly care about the truth of it.”

In the case of Finkelman’s work on John Marshall’s slaveholding, that would have been a mistake. He’s proven his case that Marshall amassed a mini slave empire in a way that is publicly checkable and, moreover, substantially true. It shouldn’t be written off simply because he is publicly checkable and substantially false on the subject of the Second Amendment.

What I wish Finkelman and so many professors, possibly including you, would understand is this: In this age of Way Too Much Information, trust is a ridiculously important sorting mechanism.

We face a deluge of claims on our attention, every day, and have to find some way to sift through that to get at good information.

Understand also that when we do read, we often do so through a hermeneutic of suspicion. If a source isn’t credible in our eyes for some reason, that’s one less claimant on our time to worry about.

What I’m saying, my fine south-pawed friends, is this: Don’t shoot your own credibility in the foot by making ridiculous claims about a cherished, historical right of the American people.

MORE: Boy showed Zoom class his Nerf gun. Teacher ‘assumed’ it was a toy. School called police on him anyway.

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About the Author
Jeremy founded three of the Real Clear Politics family of websites and has covered subjects ranging from religious trends to space travel to an armed standoff, for hundreds of publications. His books and comic books include The Warm Bucket Brigade: A History of the Vice Presidency, William F. Buckley, and Movie Men. Jeremy graduated from Trinity Western University, where he served as an editor for the Mars Hill newspaper.