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Right to Bear Arms

History Of The Right To Bear Arms

The first recorded instance of gun control was in England in 1671, a few years following its Civil War. The Game Act restricted hunting and gun ownership among the peasants while permitting the wealthy to maintain their weaponry and to own hunting lands. Persons below a certain income level were not allowed to keep weapons, even for self-defense. A few years later the English Bill of Rights included a right of Protestants to bear arms, and also denounced the abuse of standing armies. The colonists coming to America brought with them the English tradition of using arms for self-preservation and defense.

Self-preservation and defense quickly became crucial to the colonists. Firearms were needed for protection of life, and for sustenance. Colonists were imbued with a fear of standing armies because of the Boston Massacre, the seizure of arms and militia at Lexington, and other Revolutionary War incidents. Clearly, the Revolutionary War would have had a different outcome had individual citizens not taken up arms to fight the Red Coats.

Reflecting the times in which it was written, the Virginia Constitution, adopted in June of 1776, provided that "a well-regulated Militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free State." It also acknowledged the danger of a standing army. Other colonies enacted similar provisions. Some constitutions from the late eighteenth century spoke of a "right" to bear arms, while others denominated it a "duty." This fear of standing armies and a tyrannical central government, as well as the fact that individual armed citizens were crucial to the American's victory in the Revolutionary War, provided the backdrop to the drafting of the Second Amendment.

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