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Lessons from McDonald v. Chicago

I have enjoyed basking in the glory of being cited in a U.S. Supreme Court decision for the second time, but this was not a conservative victory.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

July 6, 2010 - 12:06 am
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Both are necessary. Winning presidential elections means sympathetic justices, and scholarly research means arguments that stand up well at oral arguments and in decisions. You can’t do just one and expect victory. You have to do both.

Elections are short-term; building up a body of scholarly research is long-term. As an example, I started preparing for McDonald in 1991, when I began writing For the Defense of Themselves and the State (1994). I wrote several other books that prepared the groundwork (some of them not even gun-related, such as Black Demographic Data, 1790-1860 (1997)), because they had information in them that I thought would be necessary for other books that I knew that I would have to write.

There’s a lesson here for conservatives. Conservatives have been losing the battle for the Constitution for several decades now — and sad to say, this victory in McDonald wasn’t a conservative victory, but a libertarian victory. The Cato Institute pushed it — at a time when the NRA (probably correctly) didn’t think it was winnable in the courts. It is quite apparent to me that social conservatives have been focused on trying to win popular support for their positions in order to win elections.  That’s fine; it is necessary and it is how a republic is supposed to work.  But it isn’t enough. Social conservatives need to be funding historical and legal research to defend their positions — and if they want to win, this needs to be a long-term strategy. Writing briefs for a Supreme Court case is a short-term strategy; having conservative historians accurately and carefully argue the conservative point of view is absolutely necessary.  Sad to say, social conservatives have shown no interest in the subject — and if they do not start to move forward now, it is going to be too late.

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Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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