The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities presents
The Intellectual and Literary History Public Seminar Series


Assaulting Democracy: Gun Rights and the Social Contract in America

American gun rights are premised on fidelity to the original meaning and intent of the US Constitution, in particular, the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” For decades, pro-gun and pro-gun control activists argued over the meaning of this constitutional provision, before the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the right to bear arms applies to individual possession of firearms, and the gun control battle appeared to be lost. This paper argues that neither pro- nor anti-gun activists have been attentive to the republican philosophy at the heart of the Second Amendment, which framed military service within an articulate concept of the social contract. Although a number of historians and legal scholars have demonstrated errors within the reigning gun rights orthodoxy, none has adequately articulated the degree to which a doctrine of firearms-for-all violates the democratic idea at the heart of the American political system. Typically, gun control activists treat the Second Amendment as a relic and a quirk that ought to be forgotten. I wish to argue to the contrary that a more historical understanding of the Second Amendment as a democratic provision can help move the debate beyond its current deadlock. Liberty has been a word monopolized by pro-gun organizations such as the National Rifle Association but it is a model of freedom foreign to the constitutional ‘proof text’ around which it bases its claims. The gun debate may be no more than a shouting match, much of the time, but history has a role to play in framing a more productive dialogue in which ‘liberty’ is not a value alienated from ‘life.’

Dominic Erdozain earned his PhD in history at Cambridge University. He taught for six years at King’s College London before moving to Atlanta, where he is a scholar in residence at Emory University. He is the author of The Soul of Doubt: the Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx (Oxford, 2015) and the editor of The Dangerous God: Christianity and the Soviet Experiment (Northern Illinois, 2017). He is currently writing a book on the American gun culture, entitled God, Guns and Democracy in America, which will be published by Oxford University Press in 2020.

Image: ‘We the People,’ photograph, Wikimedia Commons


4pm Thursday 12th September 2019
Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower
The University of Queensland, St Lucia

Please contact or 07 334 69492 for further details.
Find parking information here.

All welcome.


Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower, UQ St Lucia