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Francis Wilkinson

America’s Gun Laws Are as Old as Its Gun Politics

In an interview, a political scientist discusses the Supreme Court’s misreadings of the history of gun regulation.

Off limits?

Off limits?

Photographer:  Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg

The US Supreme Court’s decision last month to strike down an 111-year-old New York law mostly prohibiting the concealed carry of firearms has not won a lot of admirers in legal academia. Saul Cornell of Fordham called it “one of the most intellectually dishonest and poorly argued decisions in American judicial history.” Adam Winkler of UCLA mocked it.

The court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, takes away the discretion of authorities in issuing permits to carry a gun. The decision relies heavily on a convoluted reading of the history of regulation, saying that New York’s law was outside the bounds of traditional gun laws at the time of both the founding and the “second founding” during Reconstruction.