Eugene Volokh on the Second Amendment, the Constitution, and more

Eugene Volokh, founder of Photo: Eugene Volokh talks about the Second Amendment

FLORIDA, February 6, 2013 — Yesterday, Eugene Volokh, UCLA law professor and the founder of the popular legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy, shared his opinions about some of the key issues facing America. 

In this second part of our discussion, he tells us about how he perceives the Second Amendment, what sort of freedoms the Constitution provides for, his legal philosophy, as well as a bit about his life and career.          


Joseph F. Cotto: The Second Amendment can be interpreted in many different ways. How do you perceive it?

Eugene Volokh: I think the Second Amendment secures an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense (and perhaps for other reasons).  This right — like other rights, such as free speech — is not unlimited, and some regulations (including ones that I think are unwise) are constitutional, so long as they don’t substantially interfere with people’s ability to defend themselves.  But the right is an important right, which legislatures and courts should respect.

Cotto: The debate over whether or not the Constitution is a living document seems to know no bounds. In a modern, pluralistic society such as ours, what would you say is the most practical method of interpreting our Constitution?

Volokh: That’s a hard question, to which I don’t have a firm answer. 

Cotto: The term “freedom” means different things to as many people. What sort of freedom would you say that the Constitution provides for?

Volokh: Again, I’m afraid that this is too general a question. The Constitution provides for a lot of things. It provides for self-government, which includes the majority’s power to restrict freedom when it thinks such restrictions are necessary. It also secures specific freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the like. And it creates a system of separation of powers and federalism that is aimed at protecting freedom more broadly — sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

Cotto: In a summary sense, how would you describe your legal philosophy?

Volokh: “Ordered liberty,” I suppose, is the closest I can come to it. That’s pretty vague, you might say — and you’d be right, because I don’t think that the complexities of law, life, and human nature can be captured in anything more precise.

Cotto: Tell us a bit about your life and career.

Volokh: My first career was as a computer programmer; I loved being one, and if I couldn’t have been a lawyer, I would have happily stayed in that field. But I wanted to live a semi-public life — to participate in policy debates, to write op-eds, to litigate interesting constitutional cases, to testify before legislative committees, and the like. And for better or worse, in America that sort of thing is largely done by lawyers. So I became a lawyer, and then a legal academic. And I’m delighted to say that I’ve gotten pretty much what I’ve wanted.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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