[Updated February 26, 2010]
This post links Professor Paul Finkelman's use of a Virginia Ratifying Convention disarming argument by George Mason, examined in the previous post, with his use of a different Mason disarming argument from the same source presented in the professional historians' Heller brief supporting Washington DC's gun control laws. The fact is that Professor Finkelman and his associates, who filed one of eight historically oriented briefs in Heller, fundamentally influenced Justice Stevens' dissent in that case. This post emphasizes the erroneous nature of the conflationary Mason Virginia Convention arguments in Professor Finkelman's McDonald and earlier Heller Supreme Court briefs, and presents additional historical information documenting the error. It also demonstrates that a Virginia militia powers amendment/Second Amendment conflation error has always been a major historical foundation of gun control supporters' arguments.
Professor Finkelman, one of four McDonald Pennsylvania history amici, was also one of the fifteen academics involved with the professional historians' amicus brief in the earlier Heller case. That earlier brief used a George Mason disarming argument from the Virginia Convention as the link between its militia powers dispute and the Second Amendment. However, the particular Mason argument presented there appeared fourteen sentences earlier in Mason's speech than the one presented in the McDonald Pennsylvania brief. [The Origin of the Second Amendment, p.401] Every erroneous aspect of the second Mason "'disarming" argument demonstrated in the previous post also applies to Professor Finkelman's usage of Mason's first "disarming" argument in the earlier historians' Heller brief as well.
Eight briefs presenting historical arguments supporting Washington DC's gun control laws were filed in the Heller case, and every one of them contained a 1788 Virginia Convention militia powers argument link to the Second Amendment [see list at the end of this paragraph]. Each of them was in error for the same reason, conflating non-related militia powers and bill of rights arguments and amendments. In those Heller historical briefs, Mason's first "disarming" argument is mentioned or quoted as the specific link to the Second Amendment, with one relying on Mason's related "various ways of destroying the militia" statement instead. By repeating this erroneous argument in their own amicus, the fifteen professional historians, including Professor Finkelman, gave their imprimatur to the erroneous Virginia Convention related claims in the other seven Heller historical briefs. This mass of historical misinformation backed up by a substantial group of professional historians naturally had an adverse affect on Heller because this is the completely erroneous view that was incorporated as the foundation of Justice Stevens' militia-centric dissent. He quoted the first Mason disarming statement, making it the pivotal link between his entirely militia powers related history and the Second Amendment. [Justice Stevens' Heller dissent, p.20] Justice Stevens' historically oriented dissent is entirely erroneous as a result. [List of briefs presenting erroneous argument of conflation: Petitioner's Brief p.24, Major American Cities p.17, Brady Center p.21, Am. Jewish Committee p.17, Professors of History, p.20, Chicago p.11, NY HI etal Brief pp.5-6, Petitioner's Reply Brief p.6. Briefs available here.]
An article by constitutional scholar David Hardy appeared last month in the online Cardozo Law Review, DeNovo, entitled, Ducking the Bullet: District of Columbia v. Heller and the Stevens Dissent, which specifically addresses errors of Justice Stevens. In addition to the overall excellent presentation, Mr. Hardy does a superlative job presenting the historical details of Antifederalist actions in the Virginia Ratifying Convention proving that the Second Amendment could not be the result of militia powers debate there. He includes even more details of Virginia history than presented in the previous Franklin Bridge post. Relying on a time-line of Antifederalist actions within the convention and the existence of an early partial list of non-bill of rights amendments lacking a militia powers provision, he proves that the militia powers arguments and the amendment resulting from them appeared later and were unrelated to the earlier Second Amendment provision, which was part of a completed bill of rights formed early in the convention. [pp.76-77] David Hardy's article is a must read for those interested in Second Amendment history.
Another essential piece of historical evidence exists that backs up the facts in David Hardy's article, as well as the points in part 4 of the Franklin Bridge series, about the erroneous nature of arguments linking militia powers dispute to the Second Amendment in the 1788 Virginia Ratifying Convention. George Mason, chairman of the Antifederalist amendments committee, sent a letter to New York Antifederalists early in the convention on June 9th. Included with the letter was the complete proposed Bill of Rights, which included the two-clause Second Amendment predecessor, and the partial list of "other" non-bill of rights amendments, which did not include the later developed militia powers proposal identified in Mr. Hardy's article. Mason clearly indicated in his letter that proposed amendments of the Constitution's militia powers had yet to be addressed by the amendments committee. [The Founders' View of the Right to Bear Arms, pp.133-134] Thus, the author of all proposed amendments from Virginia, both the bill of rights as well as the "other" amendments, did not view the Second Amendment predecessor as an amendment of the Article 1, Section 8 militia powers. This is directly in conflict with the beliefs of gun control supporters, including the professional historians who have been re-writing American history to back up their mistaken views.
There are at least three separate historical facts from the Virginia Ratifying Convention conclusively demonstrating the original proposal of the two-clause Second Amendment progenitor from Virginia was not related to period state militia powers arguments, and that gun control supporters' claims to the contrary are completely erroneous. First, the Virginia Convention militia powers link to the Second Amendment erroneously conflates it with an entirely different amendment specifically relating to militia powers, as documented in part 4 of the Franklin Bridge series. Second, the time-line evidence from the convention developed by David Hardy indicates development of the erroneously linked subjects occurred at different times and were for substantially different purposes. Finally, Mason's letter accompanying the bill of rights and partial amendments list on June 9, 1788 conclusively confirms the time-line evidence and indicates that no militia powers amendment had yet been discussed by the amendments committee at the time the bill of rights containing the Second Amendment predecessor had already been developed, completed, and sent to New York.
A Virginia militia powers amendment/Second Amendment conflation error is the major historical foundation of gun control supporters' arguments since the mid-1960's. The following list of seven law review and one Journal of American History articles going back in time to 1966 all use an erroneous Virginia Ratifying Convention argument conflating the militia powers dispute and the Second Amendment. The earliest two do not directly use either of Mason's disarming statements. However, starting with the Weatherup 1975 article, a Mason disarming statement or quote became the norm for making this erroneous conflation. The latest two articles, from the 2000 Chicago-Kent Law Review Symposium on the Second Amendment, were intended not only to to influence the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' U.S. vs Emerson decision, but those of any subsequent federal court cases as well. Fortunately, five Supreme Court Justices were not in a bridge buying frame of mind in Heller, nor were two Fifth Circuit judges in Emerson, preferring the actual historical facts found in period sources to stories about history from professional hiStory tellers.
Law Review Articles Containing a 1788 Virginia Convention
Militia Powers/Second Amendment Conflation Error
The above information indicates that supporters of gun control have based their interpretation of Second Amendment history on a fundamental error for nearly half a century, and they have consistently ignored period evidence contradicting their beliefs for that entire period of time. Since 1999, a number of professional historians have been recruited to back up legal professionals supporting gun control in the ongoing Second Amendment dispute. Some published their views in the 2000 Chicago-Kent Law Review. More recently, a number of the recruited historians filed briefs presenting their views about Second Amendment history to the Supreme Court in the Heller case, and most recently in McDonald vs Chicago. These professional historians' briefs supporting gun control laws have consistently been in error regarding period facts, statements, and views of the Founders that are most relevant for understanding the Second Amendment, points examined and documented in three different series of posts at this Blog. Their errors have been so numerous and egregious as to make it perfectly clear to any unbiased individual that nothing these historians present about the Second Amendment can be relied upon as accurate.
The period evidence directly contradicts the belief that the terms "well regulated militia" and "state" in the Second Amendment's first clause are references indicating any intent to protect state militia power. Such arguments have often been advanced in attempts to prove that the Second Amendment is not related to individual rights. The particular historical materials examined in David Hardy's Cardozo Law Review article and the previous post prove that both the Heller dissent and the historians' arguments using the militia powers debate in Virginia as a link to the Second Amendment are erroneous. Because the Second Amendment predecessor originated in Virginia, these facts also prove that every argument ever made by supporters of gun control claiming that the Second Amendment relates to state power over the militia is erroneous. That information added to the fact that the original bill of rights language containing "well regulated militia" and "free state" came directly from Virginia's bill of rights provision limiting state legislative power brings all ambiguity in this matter to an end, at least for those willing to rely on documented historical facts.