We are thrilled to announce the Center’s new Research Affiliate for the 2022-23 year: Joshua Aiken. Josh is a J.D./Ph.D. in History and African-American Studies at Yale. Below is his description of the dissertation project he’s working on. We’re happy to welcome Josh to his affiliation with the Center!
My dissertation project, tentatively titled The Armed Individual: Race, Guns, and the Rule of Law focuses on the relationship between firearm regulations, racial hierarchy, and social life in the United States since the Civil War. I consider how the legal rights and entitlements of the arms-bearing citizen have changed over time, paying specific attention to how gun control has been framed and interpreted in legislatures, courtrooms, and everyday public life. I look at the history of firearm manufacturers like Smith & Wesson, the politics of organizations like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and the narratives behind and beneath Second Amendment jurisprudence in order to study how state-sanctioned violence relates to the rule of law. Using a set of case studies—structured around the passage of state laws related to public carry, federal laws criminalizing firearm-related crimes, and a constitutional notion of armed self-defense—I examine how certain forms of gun violence have become normalized features of American democracy. I consider how armed resistance, policing, and property rights have shaped notions of danger and safety through both the rights of armed individuals and restrictions placed on firearm ownership and use. Against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s revolution in Second Amendment jurisprudence in 2008 and the potential for more litigation to come, I argue that ideas related to anti-blackness, settler colonialism, white domesticity, and social order are integral to understanding the present legal and political climate surrounding constitutionally-protected rights related to firearms. This project operates at the intersection of black studies, critical legal studies, and political theory, and ultimately asks what history can tell us about the state’s obligation to its citizens in a society where there are more guns than people.