There is a familiar saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The so-called Law of the Hammer takes a distinctive form in adjudication. If all judges see is one repeating fact pattern for a given area of law, they might perceive it as archetypical and build the law around it. If that fact pattern does not accurately reflect the field, however, the result can be analytical distortion in terms of both the choice of doctrine and its implementation.
This Article uses Second Amendment jurisprudence to illustrate this phenomenon. It reveals how District of Columbia v. Heller constitutionalized a policy area far broader than most appreciate, one that involves not only guns but various other weapons. The Article then shows how litigation fails to reflect that breadth. Guns are just one category of “arms” that most Americans choose not to own or carry for self-defense, but guns alone saturate Second Amendment case law. Non-gun arms are out of view when judges establish and apply Second Amendment doctrine. The Article contends that this gun-centricity, by obscuring the ways Americans exercise post-Heller Second Amendment rights, has led judges to exaggerate burdens, misread history, and espouse short-sighted doctrine to implement the right to keep and bear arms. More generally, the Second Amendment case study in this Article exposes litigation circumstances that create a heightened risk of such distortion as well as possible solutions.
Iowa Law Review
Eric Ruben, Law of the Gun: Unrepresentative Cases and Distorted Doctrine, 107 IOWA L. REV. 173 (2021)