[The following was published in Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law (ABC/Clio, 1st ed.: 2002).]
After growing up in the
Kates spent one law school summer in South as a civil rights worker. Like many other civil rights workers, he carried firearms for personal protection against the Ku Klux Klan and other violent white supremacists whose attempts to murder civil rights workers were tacitly supported by local sheriffs.
After graduating from Yale, Kates went to work for California Rural Legal Assistance and the San Mateo Legal Aid Society. In 1969, he was awarded the Reginald Heber Smith Medal by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, as poverty lawyer of the year. The award was partly based on his work in the case of Damico v. California [389 U.S. 416 (1967)] in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that persons wishing to sue under Section 1983 of the federal civil rights law do not need to pursue administrative remedies first. (Kates' name does not appear on the brief in the case, because he had only been practicing law for six months, and the Supreme Court Bar requires five years of practice before an attorney is admitted.)
Kates has litigated scores of firearms law cases. His most notable victory is Doe v. San Francisco [136 Cal. App. 3d 507 (1982)], in which the California Supreme Court ruled that San Francisco's handgun ban was contrary to a state law restricting local firearms ordinances. He is a founding partner of Benenson & Kates, a bi-coastal law firm which is the first national law firm specializing in firearms law.
Kates served as a Professor at
He is currently at Fellow at the
Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, a
Opinion editorials by Kates have
appeared in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian
Science Monitor, and many other newspapers. He has edited two books: Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out (1979),
and Firearms and Violence: Issues of Public Policy (1984). Along with
But as a writer, Kates' greatest significance his is law review articles. In 1983, the Michigan Law Review published Kates' "Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment," which was the first in-depth treatment of the Second Amendment to appear in a top-five law review. When Attorney General John Ashcroft announced in May 2001 that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to arms, the Kates article was among those cited by Ashcroft.
His other notable
contribution to Second Amendment theory is "The Second Amendment and
States' Rights: A Thought Experiment," co-authored with
Kates has also written extensively on criminological issues related to firearms. By far the most important of his policy articles is Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda?,which appeared in a symposium issue of the Tennessee Law Review in 1994. Along with several co-authors from medical and related disciplines, Kates surveyed the "public health" scientific literature on guns, and delivered a scathing critique accusing the public health authors of fraud, extreme carelessness, willful blindness, and a host of other errors. Defenders of the public health literature have tended to acknowledge the accuracy of Kates' claims about the articles he critiques, but have argued that other articles are not so flawed.
Media treatment of the gun issue is another of Kates' recurring topics, most recently in his 1997 book. He argues that media bias against gun owners poisons the political debate, and frightens many gun owners into a "no compromise" mentality.
Kates' greatest significance, however, has been his tireless work as a behind-the-scenes evangelist of the Second Amendment. There are literally scores of professors and journalists who have changed their mind on the Second Amendment and gun control after being contacted by Kates and reading his research.
There are also literally scores of academics and other writers (including myself) who were brought into the gun issue, or brought along in the gun issue, by Kates and his incessant networking. From the late 1970s through the mid-1990s, there were very few scholars who looked favorably on the right to arms who were not connected in some way to the Kates network. More recently, Kates has slowed down, and the number of firearms law and policy researchers has grown beyond the size of a manageable network, but this very growth is a testament to the effectiveness of Kate's work in prior decades.
vigorously opposed to the prohibition of any type of firearms, Kates differs
from many Standard Model scholars in that he finds no constitutional impediment
to many regulatory forms of gun control.
Because Kates (in sharp contrast to John Lott) tends of avoid electronic media (including the Internet), he has not created the kind of high profile that attracts personal attacks from gun control groups. Contributing to Kates' relatively low public profile is his utter lack of interest in working with grassroots gun rights activists, and his non-involvement in politics.
---David B. Kopel
See also: Academics
for the Second Amendment; Halbrook, Stephen; Kleck, Gary; Quilici v.
Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment, 82
The Second Amendment and the Ideology of Self-Protection, 9 Const. Comm. 87 (1992).
Don B. Kates, Henry E. Schaffer, John K. Lattimer, George B. Murray, Edwin H. Cassem, "Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda?" 62 Tenn. L. Rev. 513 (1994). Reprinted (with some changes) in David B. Kopel, ed., Guns: Who Should Have Them? (1995).
Don B. Kates and Glenn H. Reynolds, "The Second Amendment and States' Rights: A Thought Experiment," 36 William & Mary Law Review> 1737 (1995).
Gary Kleck and Don Kates, The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence (1997).