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The Second Amendment

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  561 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
A Biography

By the president of the prestigious Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the life story of the most controversial, volatile, misunderstood provision of the Bill of Rights.

At a time of renewed debate over guns in America, what does the Second Amendment mean? This book looks at history to provide some surprising, illuminating answers.

The Amendment was
Hardcover, 255 pages
Published May 20th 2014 by Simon & Schuster
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Sean Farrell
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
An absolute must read for anyone who has even a passing curiosity about both the gun debate in this country, and how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution. While it does suffer from a touch of unnecessary snarkiness towards the end, it still does a wonderful job of covering pretty much all the bases in the history of this contentious subject. Of course, those who think they have a God-given right to own an assortment of machine guns are likely to find this book rather disagreeable, but t ...more
Apr 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Okay, if you don't want to read an anti-NRA rant, and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, then please avoid reading these comments. But I'm a bit rankled right now because of what that group is doing in my state of NH. As I write this, a bill is being passed to allow anyone with a gun license, and that includes just about everyone, to carry a concealed, loaded weapon. Shame on the NRA and their backers. The only people benefiting from this are the gun manufacturers. So I guess all that ridiculou ...more
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Eye opening and essential reading for every American who cares a wit about the gun debate, politics, and history of the constitution. There’s even a true conspiracy detailed in this book (hint: 200 years of precedent undermined by a cabal of like-minded law students, attorneys, government officials and judges—all belonging to or supported by this group).

This isn’t anti-NRA as much as CNN isn’t fake news; this is shedding the light on a topic the right has for decades sought to conflate and conf
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book needs to be read and analyzed by everyone who has an opinion regarding the 2nd amendment. Regardless of political party or ideology, this is a book for all Americans. Any debate in our current political arena will need to pass through this book and the implications and objective evidence it provides. The fact that there is little to zero mention of individual gun rights/ownership until the post Civil War period is staggering against those who make the argument that we need to go back t ...more
Bryan Craig
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This book is well-written, concise, and helpful. Recommend.
Steven Peterson
Sep 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
When I look at reviews of books like this, I get depressed. Many people evaluate it in terms of preconceived political values. The author clearly has a perspective, but he is pretty much on target about the uncertainty of the meaning of the Second Amendment. For those of you unfamiliar with this part of the Constitution, one of the Bill of Rights, here is what it says: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall n ...more
Baal Of
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although this book touches on gun control, it is far more focused on the history of the 2nd amendment, and how it has been interpreted over the time. There was a tremendous amount of information in this relatively short book that I didn't know, for example, the fact that the NRA was once in favor of reasonable gun control laws, but that it was taken over, in a pretty blatantly hostile manner, by people who held hard-line views against any sort of regulation at all, and who complete changed the c ...more
Jun 05, 2014 rated it liked it
I was a bit disappointed. I am a lefty and absolutely on the gun control side of the argument and was hoping this would be a even-handed dissection of the 2nd amendment, its creation and subsequent legal life. While there's a lot of great information, there's a whole lotta snark, too, which might be entertaining (to someone like me) but is also wildly counter-productive. (As witnessed by the Amazon reader scores of practically exclusively 5 stars - "The Gun Lobby does not want you to read this b ...more
Nancy (NE)
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Michael Waldman’s book was an absorbing read, I can’t say enough good things. I have to admit I am a moderate where gun legislation is concerned. I don’t want to take away the privilege of ownership but I want some perimeters in place. How do we balance individual rights with public safety? The true meaning of the second amendment by the framers of the constitution has long been under debate. Grounds for defense of that argument have come from numerous places. It is one very powerful but single ...more
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
The first part of this book is far stronger than the second part. The first part goes through the history of the 2nd amendment from the beginning in the late 18th century. The author is clear that the Framers weren't answering the question we have today about individual gun rights but were rather trying to protect a bygone republican institution, the citizen militia, which does not exist today.

I stopped reading in the second half because the author ranges through too many topics in American his
David Schwan
Aug 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book started out a bit confusing. There are three parts to the book. The first was not to convincing. The second part was super convincing, and the last part continued the convincing part. Take aways--textual analysis sucks just like it does for bible analysis--major intellectual failure. Recent SCOTUS decisions are mired in loopy analysis.
Peter Goodman
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing

“The Second Amendment: a biography,” by Michael Waldman (Simon and Schuster, 2014). Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law; he was Bill Clinton’s chief speechwriter from 1995-1999. He is scrupulously fair but makes his position very clear: Until the National Rifle Association set about to change the way the US read the Second Amendment, in the 1970s, everyone knew that it was primarily about creating a self-defense force, not about letting anyone who want
John Findlay
Nov 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another very good book about the way the Second Amendment has been interpreted since its adoption. The author shows that the Amendment was interpreted as a "collective" right (citizens could bear arms in the context of being available to serve in a militia) by the courts throughout history until the historic "Heller vs DC" case in 2008 that changed the interpretation to an individual right for self-defense, hunting, or sport. He also shows how the NRA changed from an organization largely support ...more
Anna Kramer
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"A Biography" is an apt title for this comprehensive and insightful review of the second amendment. Spanning the pre-colonial era to the 21st century, Waldman's book tracks the changing definition of second amendment powers, from the original protection of state militia to the current protection of the "right to bear arms". Delving deep into the minds of James Madison and the men of the Constitutional Convention, Waldman travels from the days of the Founding Fathers to the Civil War to the New D ...more
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
I just thought I knew what the second amendment is all about, who knew there was so much to know about how this amendment came into place. Waldman does an excellent job of giving the history of our founding fathers first and the state of affairs that lead to the creation of the second amendment. He follows its history through the founding of the NRA and the current laws that apply to carrying concealed weapons and the right to have a gun for protection in the home (this is a fairly recent law). ...more
David Myers
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, favorites
An extremely relevant and enlightening look at the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I highly recommend this well written book to anyone grappling with their own opinion on the need or relevance on their "right to bear arms". "The Second Amendment: a history" offers a perspective the few modern citizens know about.
The book is a timely and informative discussion of the origins and meaning of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution as well as a survey of the changing attitudes in America (and on the Supreme Court) toward gun ownership.

I wish it contained a road map in addition to the lessons learned, however. Where do we go from here?
Donald Powell
Dec 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: government
At times I found the prose hard to follow. The history, research, balance, integrity of the reasoning and the jurisprudential ennunciations are all superb. Every person who thinks about government or guns should read this packed little volume. More discussion such as this balanced look is necessary in our news media.
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: waiting-list
Very interesting. 2nd Amendment was all about organized militias. Individual gun ownership was a matter of civil law, not the Constitution.

The current attitudes are the result of NRA propaganda, since the NRA has become the representative of the gun industry.
Mar 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
eh, not bad but not great. obviously a bit biased, although it makes some excellent points. seems a bit too short, though...kind of lacking in "meat" perhaps?
Jo Stafford
Jul 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a sober, intelligent, well-researched and highly informative look at the Second Amendment. I was surprised at what I learned.
Susan Plummer
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Every American should read this!!
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: default
at times a bit biased and you can see it coming through. however lots of good research and different views. really looks clearly at the amendment and not the debate.
Nov 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
For anyone looking to understand the origins of the 2nd Amendment, how it’s been interpreted over the last 200 years, and the implications of the most recent Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions, this book is a must read. Given how infused the gun debate in the United States is with fundamentalist 2nd Amendment rhetoric and arguments, it might be surprising to many readers that interpreting the 2nd Amendment to mean individual gun rights is largely a recent phenomenon. For over 200 years ...more
Pacific Lee
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Be advised that this is a Lefty book lock, stock, and barrel - the author is obviously severely butthurt about the Heller decision. I don't really know who his intended audience is, but he implies that the gun sales spiked after Obama won 'cause of racism, and calls AR-15 owners "gun toting boys," there are many such cringy moments in this piece. That being said, I give this book three stars for at least having a coherent argument.

The crux of his thesis targets "Originalism," the idea behind th
Larry Massaro
Jun 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Illuminating and a bit depressing.

It was illuminating to learn the legislative history of the 2nd Amendment during the drafting, debates, and passage of the Bill of Rights. The NRA, Tea Party, et al, want us to believe that the first half of the amendment--"A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state . . ."--doesn't matter. (Indeed, Waldman tells us that an edited, abbreviated version of the amendment is emblazoned on the lobby wall of NRA HQs: ". . . the right of
James Stripes

On the one hand, The Second Amendment: A Biography offers a fair summary of the framing of the Second Amendment, the paucity of interpretations of its meaning by the Supreme Court, the cultural shifts and advocacy that affected political power, and the novelty of the Heller decision. On the other hand, the book seems more of a skewed legal brief than the sort of history it advocates--thorough and dispassionate. The ultimate purpose seems to be advocacy that those who wish to restric
Andy Zell
Sep 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman is an important book that looks at two important things regarding the Constitution. First, it is a history of how the Second Amendment has been interpreted. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it wrestles with how to interpret the Constitution today, showing how the theory of originalism does not work as a coherent theory of interpretation. So first the history of the amendment. The Second Amendment is notoriously difficult to interpret beca ...more
Jun 12, 2017 rated it liked it
The 30 Years' War and our debate over guns are characterized by religious fervor, violence, and anger stemming from differing interpretations of a shared seminal text. I'm one of those people who thinks the 2nd Amendment relates to the establishment and maintenance of militias designed to protect our government (not overthrow it as the modern militia movement seems to believe) in lieu of a standing army and that its inclusion likely had something to do, at least in part, with southern white mino ...more
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I rarely give a book 5 stars, but it's warranted here. I started reading the book out of curiosity and professional interest. I teach Federal Gov at a community college part time and wanted to better articulate 2nd Amendment politics. This book is written in such clear language and strikes at the center of the gun debate issue. I savaged this book with my own notes and will refer to it for quite some time. Great work Mr. Waldman!
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“Wayne LaPierre feverishly explained that all Americans must be armed. “After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia,” he wrote. “Looters ran wild in south Brooklyn. There was no food, water or electricity. And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not get home at all.” LaPierre’s version of the hurricane mystified those who lived through it. Coney Island was unusually peaceful: there were no murders, no rapes, and no shootings that week, according to the New York City Police Department.” 0 likes
“through the transcript. Some colleagues, at least, found the whole exercise droll. Fisher Ames, a Federalist” 0 likes
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