Scholarship Highlight Interview: Goss & Lacombe on Heller & Policy Feedback Effects

  • Date:
  • October 09, 2020

For the most recent scholarship highlight interview, I sat down with Kristin A. Goss (Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University) and Matthew J. Lacombe (Barnard College) to discuss their terrifically fascinating article, Do Courts Change Politics? Heller and the Limits of Policy Feedback Effects, recently published in the Emory Law Journal.

Here is the abstract from their article and below is the link the full video:

District of Columbia v. Heller was a landmark ruling in which the Supreme Court established that citizens have a constitutional right to possess firearms in their homes for self-protection. The 5-4 decision—along with the Court’s subsequent ruling in McDonald v. Chicago—upended the prevailing wisdom that the Second Amendment protected the right of the states to assemble militias for collective security. In this Article, we examine the effects of these rulings on gun regulation in the United States and, more to the point, on gun politics. We situate our analysis within several related theoretical frameworks, most notably those focused on policy feedback and on the role of courts in producing social change. We argue that the effects of Heller (together with the parallel decision in McDonald) have been rather limited. We examine the rulings’ first-order effects on pre-existing gun control laws, as well as second-order effects on a number of related outcomes. We find that Heller and its progeny have had generally small or non-existent impacts on gun policy, on the organizational capacities and political strategies of pro-gun and pro-regulation groups, and on public attitudes toward gun regulation. Our findings support a constrained view of the Court’s ability to drive social and political change. We conclude, however, by noting that recent developments—particularly hints that some Supreme Court Justices are eager to develop Second Amendment jurisprudence—have the potential to alter these conclusions.

Video link: