Book Review: The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman


Author: Michael Waldman
TitleThe Second Amendment: A Biography
Narrator: John Glouchevitch
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2018)
Summary/Review:

The Second Amendment: A Biography is a thorough history of “the right to bear arms” in America from colonial period to today.  Bearing arms has always been seen necessary for hunting and self-defense, but in Colonial America the greatest purpose of gun ownership was the duty of serving in a citizen militia for mutual defense.  The idea of militias was highly regarded in the culture of the time since its membership included the most prominent members of the community whereas the regular army drew from the dregs of society. There was a fear of standing armies being a temptation for tyrannical rulers, so the civilian militia was seen as the ideal.

When the Constitution was sent to the states to be ratified, many opponents complained that it did not include a bill of rights and submitted over 100 suggestions for inclusion in a list of rights.  The Framers of the Constitution for the most part didn’t consider a Bill of Rights necessary since they were already encoded in most state constitutions, and by the time the first Congress met the push for a Bill of Rights had faded away.  Ironically, James Madison was among the leaders who didn’t see a necessity for a federal Bill of Rights, but as his constituents were particularly adamant about the issue, he took it upon himself to whittle down and combine the many suggestions into the Bill of Rights we know today.

Waldman takes the time to discuss how this process of revision, combinations, and debate lead to the awkwardly worded Second Amendment that we know today.  He also cites records of the drafting to show that the concerns underlying the Second Amendment were related to individual gun ownership and self-defense as many activists insist today. Waldman examines the quotes the Second Amendment activists use from leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry and shows that they are used out of context or are irrelevant to the Second Amendment.

The idea and practice of the militia evolved over time with the Civil War prompting a major growth in a federal military.  By World War I, the United States had the standing army many early Americans feared, and militias had all but evaporated.  Even within these changing times, courts still interpreted the Second Amendment as a communal rather than individual right. When the Franklin Roosevelt administration introduced bans on machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, event the president of the National Rifle Association wrote in support of sensible gun regulations.

The great societal upheavals of the 1960s – especially expanded civil rights for Black Americans and urban riots – lead to a backlash among conservative white people who began emphasizing the right to firearms for individual defense. At a NRA convention in Cincinnati in 1977, the more conservative members revolted against leadership and moved the organization to be the activist gun rights lobbying organization we’re familiar with today.

At the same time, judicial appointees from the Nixon and Reagan (and later the Bushes) made the courts more conservative in their interpretations of the Second Amendment.  Waldman focuses particularly on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his idea of following the original intent of the Framers. Waldman demonstrates that original intent is actually a reactionary and activist position. Over Scalia’s long career on the Supreme Court, he went to being an outlier on the idea of Constitutional originalism to being in a judiciary where such interpretations were widespread.  Which leads to the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller where the Supreme Court affirmed for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms.

Waldman’s book is very detailed and provides a lot of interesting context for a thorny topic.  Regardless of where you stand on the issue, I expect this book will show you that there are a lot of things about the Second Amendment that are not what you thought.  This is a good book to read as we continue to grapple with the issues that come at the conflict of individual rights and communal responsibilities.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

46


46 years ago yesterday, President Richard Nixon delivered what became known as his “I am not a crook” speech.  This went down as a key moment in the downfall of his presidency, and Nixon would resign less than 9 months later.

There are a couple of things that fascinates me about this historical event.  One, it took place at Walt Disney World, specifically the Contemporary Resort where the monorail passes through, which strikes me as a strange place for a president to deny his crimes.  Two, on a more personal level, I was born the next day so the headlines of the newspapers on the day I was born were all about the “I am not a crook” speech.

Here’s a couple of examples from New York Newsday and the New York Times:

 

After looking back to a highly-relevant past, I also look towards the future.  I have high hopes for 46 in more ways than one.

As always, happy birthday to my November 18th fam: Mickey Mouse, Steven Moffat, David Ortiz, and Chloë Sevigny!

Related Posts:

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 16


99% Invisible :: Ubiquitous Icons

The story behind three symbols that have become mainstays: the Peace Symbol, the Smiley Face, and the Power Icon on electronic devices.  Note: Forrest Gump was not involved.

Best of the Left :: Why We Cannot Have Nice Things (How Racism Hurts Everyone, Including White People)

This collection of stories from progressive news outlets takes “a look at some of the ways that conservative policies, willed into existence almost exclusively by white people, measurably hurt people and shorten life expectancies, including those who most fervently support the self-destructive policies.”

Throughline :: The Siege of Mecca

The purpose of Throughline is to trace the history that shapes current events, but The Siege of Mecca of November 20, 1979 is something I’d never heard about before at all, and think it’s an important event to have knowledge of.

Radio Boston :: 60 Years Ago, A Folk Revival Began At Passim In Cambridge

Passim, the tiny folk club in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, was an important place for me in my 20s & 30s when I attended a lot of shows and even volunteered there quite a bit.  There’s a lot of great history in this interview.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: Fault Lines by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer


Author: Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer
Title: Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974
Publication Info: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2019]
Summary/Review:

I was born near the end of 1973, so this book is essentially the history of America during my lifetime.  The authors are professors at Princeton University who built the book out of course on recent American history.  I’m not familiar with Zelizer, but Kruse has established himself as a leading public historian by sharing facts and debunking myths on Twitter. The central thesis is that the polarized politics of the United States began in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal (which disillusioned Americans faith in government, something that is ironically exploited by Nixon’s own party) as well as the revolutions of civil rights, gender, and sexuality and their conservative counter-revolutions.

The book is a thorough history of the past 45 years, and I had a lot of “oh yeah, I remember that!” moments.  I have two criticisms of the book in general. One, is that it reads like a laundry list of events with very little analysis.  Two, it is a top-down approach focusing on the actions of Presidents and Congresses as opposed to the greater societal actions.  I understand it would be a much thicker book if these things were included, but the instances in the book that offer analysis and history of the people are much richer than the book overall.

That being said, this is an excellent summary of how we got to where we are in the United States.  Every living American has lived at least partly in the period of time covered here and would benefit from reading about our recent history.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 12


BackStory :: Darkness Over the Plain

The history of the bison in America, their demise, revival, and symbolism.

Decoder Ring :: Bart Simpson Mania

Hop in a time machine to the early 1990s when an animated character of a 6-year-old became  the center of  social and political debate.  I’d totally forgotten about the bootleg Black Bart t-shirts.

Lost at the Smithsonian :: Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers

This new show hosted by Aasif Mandvi explores different objects at the Smithsonian Institution.  Many people visit the Smithsonian to see the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, but did you know that there are at least six pairs of slippers and the Smithsonian has a mismatched set?


 

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending September 28


Code Switch :: The Original Blexit

Black Americans have never been fully supported by any political party, but after the Civil War, Black voters typically supported the Party of Lincoln.  Starting in the 1930s, many Black voters began switching their allegiance from Republicans to Democrats, a shift that was thoroughly completed by the 1970s.  Code Switch explains why and how that happened.

1619 Project  

This podcast debuted in August to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in what would become the United States.  The 1619 Project, created by the New York Times and hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, explores how the legacy of slavery, segregation, and inequality have shaped American history.  There are 4 episodes so far and they are all excellent.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

TOMORROW 9/24: Boston Preliminary Election #BosPoli #GOTV


All my readers who live in the city of Boston, please set aside the time to vote in the Boston Preliminary Election at your local polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Candidates are running for Boston City Council for At Large offices and in Districts Five, Seven, Eight, and Nine.  The other districts are sadly uncontested.  Your vote tomorrow will help decide which candidates advance to the General Election on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.  If you need help determining were to vote use this handy online tool.

Municipal elections are often overlooked in Boston allowing candidates who don’t represent the best interests of Boston’s people to gain off.  Please take the time to participate and make sure our city gets the best representation possible.  If you’re not sure who to vote for – and lord knows the local news media doesn’t help – here are some resources I’ve found with the candidates’ statements on various issues (note: I’m sharing these for informational purposes and not as an endorsement for any candidates).

If you find this post useful, please share it on social media, and encourage everyone you know to Get Out The Vote!

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 3


On the Media :: Repairing Justice: The Prosecutor

Prosecutors wield enormous power in the criminal justice system, contributing to racial inequality.  Can progressive prosecutors help with criminal justice reform?

Throughline :: Milliken v. Bradley

The effort to end school segregation by way of busing lead to this Supreme Court case decision that still affects our schools and communities to this day.

Throughline :: Huey Long vs. The Media

Louisiana’s most famous politician was loved and hated in equal measure. A populist who favored social programs, he also ruled in a dictatorial manner and carried out a long war against the free press.  Long seems to be an odd combination of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and a fascinating figure in American history.

Tiny Desk Concert :: Lizzo

An electrifying performance at a tiny-ass desk by the great Lizzo.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: 808

The story of the drum machine that changed popular music.

 

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 2nd


It’s all Boston politics this week!

Radio Boston :: In Boston, Is This A New Era For Criminal Justice?

For the first time in Boston’s history, all of the top law enforcement officials are people of color.  Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins discuss how they will address criminal justice in Boston.

We Need Some Milk :: Bak 2 School w/ Kristin Johnson

An interview with one of Boston’s top parent activists for public education.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: Greed and Glory by Sean Deveney


Author:  Sean Deveney
TitleGreed and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Doc Gooden, Lawrence Taylor, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, and the Mafia in 1980s New York
Publication Info: Skyhorse Publishing (2018)
Summary/Review:

Sean Deveney follows up his book about New York City in the 1960s through the lens of local politics and sports, Fun City, with this book about New York City in the 1980s through the lens of local politics and sports.  Fun City focused on two figures, Mayor John Lindsay and Jets quarterback Joe Namath, both handsome, young men who rose to prominence alongside the 60s youth culture and offered the promise of a great future (for themselves and the city) but also had hubris that lead to colossal failures.  Greed and Glory, as evident by the extraordinarily long subtitle is not so focused.  Greed and Glory cuts from storyline to storyline with no clear theme, and often is not even arranged chronologically.

The sports angle is covered by the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets and 1987 Super Bowl champion New York Giants.  Star players Dwight Gooden for the Mets and Lawrence Taylor for the Giants each struggle with their celebrity in New York and each end up with cocaine addictions that mar their careers.  But Deveney just can’t seem to focus on these two players and what they mean to the larger story of New York in the 1980s, and instead spends a lot of time describing the experiences of other Mets and other Giants and play-by-plays of important games in their championship seasons.  And while this kind of narrative can be interesting, there are whole other books dedicated to these teams’ champion seasons, whereas this one promises and fails to tell a more relevant story of Gooden and Taylor in 1980s New York.

The other storylines focus on New York mayor Ed Koch as his third term is rocked by scandals among the Democratic party leaders throughout the city.  Future mayor Rudy Giuliani makes his mark as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York by aggressively pursuing cases against the Mafia as well as the political corruption in the Koch administration.  And Donald Trump carries out a convoluted plot to get a NFL team and a domed stadium in Queens (paid for with other peoples’ money, naturally) by suing the NFL on behalf of the USFL.  The plan fails, but he somehow redeems himself by restoring the Wollman skating rink in Central Park.  Pretty much every sketchy detail of his character (and lack thereof) was evident in the 1980s, but for some reason people still decided to make him famous and then elect him President.  Ugh!

These storylines – if the Mets/Giants stories were excised – could almost make a good book, but there’s still too much and it just comes out messy. Granted, the 1980s in New York were a mess and it’s still difficult to make any sense of it.  Deveney doesn’t make a dent in that mess, but I will give him credit for at least making it a pageturner of a read, if ultimately too fluffy for its own good.

Recommended books:

  • The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform–and Maybe the Best by Jeff Pearlman
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
  • New York Calling : From Blackout to Bloomberg edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.

Rating: **1/2