Michael Waldman’s new book The Second Amendment: A Biography considers how the right to own a gun was “written” into the Constitution through judicial interpretation. With recent mass shootings like the one in Isla Vista stirring the national conversation about gun control, the book proves a critical resource for those hoping to discover how this right developed.

The book is divided into three broad sections: the early history of the Second Amendment, underscoring its original purpose to ensure that white male citizens would have a rifle available for use in state militias; how the National Rifle Association began lobbying for the right to own a gun in the 1970s, which eventually led to the 2008 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in favor of gun ownership; the legal ramifications of Heller, including its effects on efforts to curb gun violence.

Heller is a key piece of Waldman’s portrait of the remarkable evolution in the Second Amendment’s meaning. As Waldman '87 marvels in his introduction, “That’s right: the Supreme Court found there to be an individual right to gun ownership just a few years ago.”

Published by Simon & Schuster, The Second Amendment has received critical acclaim for its clear-eyed, balanced perspective on the emotionally- and politically-charged issue of gun control. The following news media outlets shared their praise:

  • “[R]igorous, scholarly, but accessible.”
    New York Times, 5/26/14
  • “[H]is calm tone and habit of taking the long view offers a refreshing tonic in this most loaded of debates.”
    Los Angeles Times, 5/23/14
  • “This thoughtful, accessible survey of Second Amendment law will be useful to anyone arguing either side of this endlessly controversial issue.”
    Kirkus Reviews, 4/14/14
  • “Waldman relates this tale in clear, unvarnished prose and it should now be considered the best narrative of its subject.”
    Publishers Weekly, 4/7/14

Waldman has been president of the Brennan Center for Justice since 2005. From 1995 to 1999, he was director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton. His previous books include My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America’s Presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama (2003, 2010).

Watch him discuss the contentious history of gun control with MSNBC:

Posted June 4, 2014