Kevin Sweeney: Guns, Militias, and the Second Amendment

Kevin SweeneyFebruary 5, 2013

Interview by William Sweet • Photo by Rob Mattson

The citizen soldier, ready to defend his family, property and liberty, is a powerful and cherished image, and one often invoked in debates around the Second Amendment and gun violence.

But that image just isn’t accurate. According to Kevin M. Sweeney, professor of American studies and history, the militia man isn’t who we think he is, and the Second Amendment doesn’t do what we think it does. In short, he says, the NRA and the Supreme Court need a history lesson.

The BBC recently interviewed Sweeney about guns in American culture, and he has co-authored a piece in the current Chronicle of Higher Education with Saul Cornell ’82, professor of history at Fordham University. Sweeney is at work on a book about guns in rural America.

History of Homes


History Professor Kevin Sweeney points out architectural details on the Dickinson Homestead.

History professor Kevin Sweeney is a historian of “material culture” which involves researching archeological sites, estate sale records, wills and census reports to uncover clues about consumption and use of goods ranging from food to furniture to firearms.

Sweeney’s firearms research alone has yielded surprising insights. For example, he’s found that gun ownership in the original colonies was surprisingly varied – relatively low in regions like Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and comparatively higher in the New England and Southern States.

He has used this approach to study the life of Lord Jeffery Amherst, and over the years also has become an expert on the history of the American home. This semester, he’s sharing that knowledge, in a course he’s teaching titled "The Material Culture of American Homes."

Professor Sweeney recently sat down with Director of Public Affairs Peter Rooney to discuss the class.

Listen to the full interview below or download it here:

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Q: What is “Material Culture?”