The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
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The Interpretive Rules

2nd Amendment – Right to Bear Arms

The Historical Basis for the Right to Bear Arms

Right to Bear Arms in England

The American people’s devotion to their right to bear arms grew in part out of their own circumstances and England’s history. As early as 1689 the English Bill of Rights had guaranteed that the King’s subjects “may have arms for their defence.” But this provision stipulated not only that this right was confined to Protestants but also that it extended only to what was “suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law.” Blackstone called this right “a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation.” But these “due restrictions” could restrict the right significantly. 

The English government ostensibly limited gun ownership within its borders in order to protect its game, but the reason why England disarmed her subjects outside of those borders was unquestionably to prevent insurrections. Several times throughout the eighteenth century, Parliament took action to disarm the Scottish and deny them a militia. The Scottish steadfastly claimed that these actions were a violation of their constitutional rights under the Treaty of Union with England. The English had already made similar and more successful attempts to disarm the Irish, particularly in the Disarming Act of 1695, but it was primarily the Scottish experience that provided a cautionary tale for Americans.