Although much has changed in the United States since the eighteenth century, our framework for gun laws still largely relies on the Second Amendment and the patterns that emerged in the colonial era. America has long been a heavily armed, and racially divided, society, yet few citizens understand either why militias appealed to the Founding Fathers or the role that militias played in North American rebellions, in which they often functioned as repressive--and racist--domestic forces.
Armed Citizens: The Road from Ancient Rome to the Second Amendment (U Virginia Press, 2020) begins and ends with the statement that the Second Amendment no longer makes sense. Noah Shusterman then sets about proving this point with a chronological journey to the Second Amendment. While that might seem a clear and straight-froward path, it starts in an unexpected place and time: Italy over 2,000 years ago with stops in France and England, but it gets to what will become the United States of America. In many ways this is an Atlantic history of the Second Amendment. Armed Citizens works in several different genres of history, including intellectual and political. The book also engages the history of race, racism, and white supremacy.
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.