Man Without Qualities

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Another Second Amendment Thought

A prior post wondered whether there might be some research out there indicating how many households in late 18th and early 19th Century America owned militia worthy firearms, not just some gun (as Bellesilles' now-debunked "research" purported to do). This might be significant under what may be an emerging interpretation of the Second Amendment as creating an individual (perhaps even individual and fundamental) right with respect to militia type firearms.

Since Professor Jim Lindgren of Northwestern University wrote that wonderful article referenced in the prior post, I asked him this question, and he was kind enough to answer:

The best work on militia weapons produced for muster is a forthcoming article by historian Robert Churchill in the William & Mary Quarterly. The best data available is a few door-to-door surveys done in particular New Hampshire and Rhode Island towns in the late 1700s. They show that gun ownership (here presumably of militia-type weapons) was a bit higher than the New England probate records would suggest for the same period (the door-to-door surveys of the militia suggest that roughly 60% were armed with guns that are presumably for militia use, since this is the purpose of the surveys).

When a war broke out, that would obviously leave a substantial number of the militia without military quality weapons.

I'm not sure which way a 60% ownership rate cuts within the parameters of that emerging Second Amendment approach noted above, but it seems pretty high to me given the cost of such high grade weapons (three times the cost of a "fowler"). In any event, it looks like it's worth keeping an eye out for that William & Mary Quarterly.

Maybe Glenn Reynolds can persuade the W&MQ to post the article on line, since he's been so good at that with Yale.

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