We are excited to announce our next symposium will be hosted at Harvard Law School on March 25, 2022 in coordination with the Harvard Law Review. The theme is Guns, Violence, and Democracy. The events of the past several years—including pandemic-produced uncertainty and economic instability, antiracism protests, and assaults on free and fair elections—have confirmed both the importance and the fragility of democratic institutions. The symposium will discuss the ways that violence shapes U.S. democracy, with an emphasis on the intersection between firearms and issues like voting, public protest, policing, race and privilege. We plan to address some of the theoretical, doctrinal, historical, and policy challenges at the center of this critical debate by drawing together scholars of diverse methodologies and perspectives.
Below are the panels, participants, and topics. The essays produced as part of the symposium will be published next summer in the Harvard Law Review Forum.
Panel One: Guns and Democratic Governance
More than 40,000 people were killed with guns last year and tens of thousands more were injured. But guns implicate law beyond those situations when a trigger is pulled. Do armed groups have a First Amendment right to peaceably assemble? What legal authority do localities have to restrict armed gatherings? How does this authority extend to polling locations, where gun-rights activists have sought the right to carry their weapons? How do guns fit in a democratic society? This panel will discuss issues related to how guns affect democratic institutions.
Panelists: Franita Tolson (USC); Jeff Fagan (Columbia); Reva Siegel (Yale) and Joseph Blocher (Duke)
Panel Two: Guns and Policing
The role and function of policing were front and center in the widespread antiracism protests last summer. As many commentators have noted, police firepower plays a key role in incidents of police violence and in the broader role that law enforcement plays in maintaining order. Government officials have not always played this role in American history, and many states today still allow private citizens to assume policing functions. Debates about stand-your-ground-laws and laws empowering citizens to make arrests, and prosecutions when death results, highlight how central guns are to this function. This panel will discuss the significance of firearms to public and private policing.
Panelists: Aziz Huq (Chicago); Eric Ruben (SMU); Adam Winkler (UCLA)
Panel Three: Race, Gender, and Privilege
Guns and gun violence are largely racialized and gendered phenomena in the United States today and throughout the country’s history. The Second Amendment and broad statutory gun rights apply in race and gender neutral terms, but that is not always how these rights work in practice. This panel will discuss the race, gender, and privilege perspective on the place of guns in American society.
Panelists: Bertrall Ross (UVA); Leila Sadat (Washington University-St. Louis); Jake Charles and Darrell Miller (Duke)
Panel Four: Guns & Advocacy
Some of the amicus briefs filed in Bruen—including a prominent one from Black public defenders—highlighted the ways in which the enforcement of gun laws harms marginalized groups and argued that, in essence, racial justice required the Court to deem New York’s licensing scheme unconstitutional. Others defending New York’s law argued that further deregulation of guns would exacerbate existing racial inequalities. This panel will feature some of the participants in this broader debate about advocacy regarding gun rights and regulation.
Possible panelists: Ron Sullivan (Harvard); Elie Mystal (The Nation); Julia Jenkins (public defender)