This doctoral thesis aims to contextualize understandings of the ‘State’ expressed within the gun laws of Germany and the United States. A cultural legal study, this project offers instructive observations on basic conceptions in legal science. Specifically, it provides a so-called thick description (C. Geertz) of the outer phenomenon ‘gun laws’ to enhance comprehension of deeper phenomena and conceptions. The history of gun laws and social imaginaries (C. Taylor) formed around it differ in both countries. Whether speaking of property and self-defense, monopoly of force and a state’s duty to protect, or individual liberties and rights to resistance, common translations of words and terms are only vague approximations to intercultural understanding. That is, contextualized description optimizes our understanding of what Germans and Americans commonly mean by state and government.
Due to the potential of violence in guns, gun laws form an essential part of public security law. Their cultural roots are intertwined with those of many other aspects in the field. Predominantly engaging with the Department of Public Law’s ‘Fundamentals’ research axis, this project contributes to comparative law scholarship from a distinct interdisciplinary perspective rooted in cultural legal studies and the science of culturally-conscious (or: intercultural) communication.
While differences between the two legal cultures become sharper, this thesis also illuminates shared imaginary realms within which we confront similar dilemmas. Gun laws primarily respond to a common ‘dilemma of modernity’ regarding the conflicting needs for order and liberty. Each cultural solution thus becomes more plausible considering contingent historic events and their modern-day interpretation. As we are always situated in culturally specific imaginary realms, only a contextualization of legal terms on both sides of the Atlantic makes intercultural communication in the legal world meaningful.
Research outcome: doctoral thesis at the University of Freiburg (2016–2020).