How Markets Made Gun Rights: Self-Defense, Property, and Firearms in the Nineteenth Century U.S.

March 27, 2020 - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Lewis-Sebring Commons, Valentine Hall, Mullins & Faerber Rooms

The Faculty Colloquium Series for 2019-20 presents a lecture titled “How Markets Made Gun Rights: Self-Defense, Property, and Firearms in the Nineteenth Century U.S.” presented by Jonathan Obert, Assistant Professor of Political Science.
“Scholarship on the origins of gun rights typically focuses on the Second Amendment, and the varied ways in which it has been interpreted by judges and the mass public. This project instead outlines a new approach to thinking about gun rights by focusing on the ways in which gun-makers articulated a vision of guns as meta-property—legally protected material objects used to protect property rights. Using a novel dataset of gun-making firms active in the U.S. from 1820 through the end of the century, as well as a content analysis of early American firearms advertisements, I trace the pre-history of gun rights discourse in the U.S. The symbolic construction of guns as commodities capable of protecting and providing in the late nineteenth century created the conceptual groundwork for their conversion into a rights discourse in the twentieth. Therefore, not only does “rights talk” concerning firearm ownership antedate much of the constitutional jurisprudence on the question, such talk was directly tied to the need for gun-makers to cultivate a domestic market for guns in highly competitive and uncertain economic conditions.”
Faculty Colloquium events are sponsored by a group of faculty colleagues who meet informally with the purpose of supporting and promoting the College’s commitment to faculty research. Colleagues interested in joining this endeavor are welcome and should contact us by email: Faculty, staff, and members of the administration are cordially invited to attend these presentations.

Contact Info

Austin Sarat
(413) 542-2308
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