Law professor focuses work on Second Amendment

Janet Schaaf

UMKC Law School professor Allen Rostron did not begin his legal career intending to work in the area of Second Amendment rights, or be a full-time law professor. After graduating from Yale Law School, he worked as a tax attorney. He soon found, however, that he did not enjoy the work. At the time of his change of focus, gun control was getting a lot of media attention and when an opportunity presented itself, he took a position at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The decision began a path that he still follows today.

Rostron was recently invited to be part of a planning team on former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety. As part of this group, Rostron focuses on recent decisions about the Second Amendment made by the Supreme Court after many years of the court not having any significant opinions about it.

“When the Supreme Court decides something and you think ‘well, that answers the question,’ it raises just as many questions,” Rostron said.

That leaves lower courts around the country trying to figure out which laws are fine as they are written and which laws need some adjustment or even to be struck down. Groups on both sides of the issue gather to strategize to influence those decisions.

According to its website, “Everytown is a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.” Their “voices of the movement” are moms, mayors and survivors.

There are groups that oppose gun control because they see it as an infringement upon the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Rostron said that in the recent Supreme Court decisions, the court has said that there needs to be a historical point of view taken. If a gun law is being decided on, a modern public policy perspective should not be the only perspective. The Supreme Court says that these decisions should begin by looking at what the right to keep and bear arms traditionally meant.

“That creates a real need to know the history,” Rostron said. “There is a real need for historians to delve back into what was the situation with guns 200 years ago or more. … What kind of laws did they have and what did they think you had a right to do and what did the right not cover. It’s a very rich, interesting, historical exploration.”

The courses Rostron teaches at UMKC have a healthy amount of discussion. He teaches a “Seminar on Gun Law & Safety,” but all of his courses have some amount of discussion about rights that citizens hold.

Students are willing to debate the gun control issue because it’s not as personal as more hot-button issues like abortion or affirmative action.

“I have found guns to be in the category of some other things like maybe religion — very controversial and people have very strong views about it, but they’re not afraid to get into it a little bit with other students or with the teacher,” Rostron said.

For UMKC students who want to get involved in either side of the gun control issue, Rostron feels there is an opportunity for activism. There are no formal student groups organized around either gun control or gun rights.