Corpus Linguistics and the Second Amendment

Corpus linguistics is the scholarly technique of searching historic databases to gather information on the use of important words or phrases. In the pending U.S. Supreme Court on the Second Amendment to right to bear arms, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen , a pair of amicus brief purport to apply corpus linguistics to the Second Amendment. The briefs say that they prove that individuals have no right to bear arms, and that even if such a right exists, it is tiny. This post examines the claims in the briefs. This post is co-authored by Campbell University law professor Gregory Wallace. Professor Wallace and I are two of the five co-authors of the just-published third edition of the textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy (Aspen, Wolters Kluwer). Professor Wallace wrote the textbook’s section on corpus linguistics and spoke at a colloquium on the subject at the Duke Center for Firearms Law. One of the amicus briefs is on behalf of three professors of linguistics —Dennis Baron (U. Illinois), Stefan Th. Gries (U. Cal. Santa Barbara), and Jason Merchant (U. Chicago)—and one law professor, Alison LaCroix (U. Chicago), who has written about corpus linguistics and founding era documents. It was filed by attorneys for Morrison & Foerster. The other brief is by and for Washington, D.C., attorney Neal Goldfarb . Goldfarb describes himself as “an attorney with an interest and expertise in linguistics, and in applying the insights and methodologies of linguistics […]

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