On May 23rd and 24th, the Firearms Research Center and Duke Center for Firearms Law co-hosted the Sixth Annual Firearms Law Works-in-Progress Conference at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Each year, the Centers take turns planning and hosting the workshop. We would like to thank Duke this year for organizing such a successful event. We featured more papers this year than ever before.

Every year, the Works-in-Progress brings togethers scholars from a diverse range of disciplines, experience levels, and opinions. Although hosted by two law schools, the workshop encourages scholarships outside of the legal field and this year, we also had scholars in the fields of history and public health. In total, we had 22 papers presented over two days, which is a record for the workshop. The panels were organized into two formats: two large plenary sessions and four smaller breakout sessions.

The opening plenary session featured a series of papers that looked more broadly at firearms ownership, less from a legal perspective but more in terms of culture and identity. The topics explored armed feminism in the 1970s, modern LGBTQIA+ gun owner experiences, gun ownership and noncitizens, and the use of firearms in hip hop lyrics and their impact on the Black community. It was a fascinating panel to begin the workshop because it brought out the voices of so many different groups engaged with firearms past and present. It turned the topic on its head in a way by starting with a more human approach to the field and then progressing into deeper legal discourse.

Four breakout sessions followed. One was dedicated to a discussion on legal and clinical means of intervention for people at risk to themselves or others. Another looked at various firearms-related issues through the lens of economic analysis of law.  A third looked at the policing of firearms, drug addiction and Second Amendment Rights. The fourth covered the military—or not—aspects of the Second Amendment on land and sea.

The workshop ended on a large plenary session that focused heavily on legal scholarship addressing the nature and scope of the right to keep and bear arms at the state and federal levels.

The study of firearms has become so political and volatile in the United States that it is often difficult to find civility in even the most academic forums. With such an emotional topic, it is easy to take personally what is professional but also to allow the personal to jeopardize professionalism. It often feels as if the opposite of agreement is no longer seen as disagreement. Rather, differing views are seen as wrong, at best, and often perceived to be malicious.

However, the collegiality and thoughtfulness that occurred during this workshop’s panels showed that civil discourse is still very much possible and present. Additionally, welcoming different disciplines into the conversation provided broader and greater depth on the subject that is firearms in American culture. Although I have been involved with the FRC for several years, this was the first Works-in-Progress workshop I have been able to attend, and the discussions and friendships made during those two days were a breath of fresh air. I look forward to our continued relationship with the Duke Center for Firearms Law and encouraging future scholarship in such a positive forum.

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