Guns and Grammar: Linguistic authority and legal interpretation in Washington, DC, v. Heller.
Professor of English and linguistics
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
In 2005, the city of Washington, D.C., was sued in federal court to overturn a long-standing ban on handguns on the grounds that it violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees American citizens the right to “keep and bear arms.” Both sides in Washington, D.C., v. Heller armed themselves with linguistic arguments to defend or attack the city's gun law.
The Washington, D.C., Attorney General asked Dr. Baron to prepare an amicus brief on the linguistics of the Second Amendment, explaining its grammatical structure and tracing the meaning of its key words from the eighteenth century to the present in order to support the city’s right to ban guns. Opponents of the gun ban presented their own syntactic analysis of the Second Amendment to support their claims. In a 5-to-4 vote the Supreme Court split along ideological lines, with the majority ruling that the city’s ban on handguns was unconstitutional.
This talk examines the linguistic arguments put forth by both sides, and the role that linguistic evidence played in this precedent-setting case.
Open to all.