The Right to Bear Arms

January 8, 2013
Author Article Constitution News Opinion

English Bill of Rights (1689)
The English Bill of Rights (1689) grants English people – and therefore British citizens – the right to bear arms.

Piers Morgan and Alex Jones agree on a number of things! First, they both seem to agree that the British tradition is that people should not be able to bear arms. Second, they both seem to agree that Americans thought of the idea that they should be able to bear arms. Third, they both seem to agree that the whole question of bearing arms is inextricably linked with the events of the American Revolution.

Interestingly enough, they are both wrong on all three points.

Of course, it is true that the American Constitution (Second Amendment) and American tradition are both aligned in granting and believing in the right to bear arms. But where did the idea come from? Like most of the best ideas in American law, it actually came originally from Britain.

It is actually a long-standing tradition, dating back to Saxon times, that English freemen should not only have the right to bear arms, but actually had a duty to do so. In the days before professional armies, this was the only was that Kings and Lords could raise armies – by relying on the armed efforts of the people.

This duty was formulated into a right in the 1181 Assize of Arms in the reign of Henry II. This law subsequently became part of English Common Law. It is quoted in William Blackstone’s textbook on English Common Law, published in 1707. English Common Law became the Common Law also of the United States – it is a shared inheritance.

The right to bear arms was also mentioned in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The Bill of Rights (1689) is one of the important British Constitutional Documents, along with Magna Carta, the Acts of Supremacy and Union and the Coronation Oath. Constitutionally, this right should never have been revoked.

The historical background to the Bill of Rights is important. It was the fundamental document produced in the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

James II was a Roman Catholic. Although he initially promised not to allow his faith to affect the Protestant nature of his realm, he gradually went back on his word. In order to bolster his Catholic allies, he allowed Catholics to be armed, but forbade the arming of Protestants. It was clear that his attitude would undermine the hard won democratic and parliamentary privileges gained during the English Civil War, and supposedly guaranteed at the Restoration of his elder brother, King Charles II. It was clear that something had to be done. So Parliament voted to depose James II, making it clear that the succession should only pass to Protestant heirs of the previous monarch. Therefore, Parliament invited James II’s Protestant sister Mary to take the throne jointly as Mary II, with her husband, William Duke of Orange, who would become William III. Therefore, the wording of the Bill of Rights, although it sounds anti-Catholic, is so for a reason. It therefore provides for Protestants to have the right to bear arms. The wording sounds strange, but the clear intention is for ordinary people to be able to defend themselves against attack, which was deemed, rightly or wrongly, likely to come from Catholic sources.

Because of the importance of the Bill of Rights, it should therefore have been deemed unconstitutional for Tony Blair’s Labour Government in 1998 to give Britain such highly restrictive gun control. This was actually an unacceptable erosion of British liberties (as the British state inherited the rights granted under the Bill of Rights (1689)).

If Piers Morgan were truly a patriotic Brit, he would be arguing, not for increased gun control in America, but for reduced gun control in Britain. And if Alex Jones were not so ridiculously anti-British, he would have pointed out this British heritage to Morgan, instead of screaming at him to go home to Britain.

Does gun control in Britain stop gun crime? Remember the Cumbria shootings in 2010? But, even if you could show that gun control reduced deaths by gunshot, that would not be the point. You could reduce death by dangerous driving by banning cars, but I have only ever met one person who seriously argued that case in public, as the right to own and drive a car is normally taken as axiomatic. The right to own a gun should be similarly axiomatic. Guns do not kill people. Idiots with guns kill people. So do idiots with knives or baseball bats. Sensible people with guns deter idiots with guns. The right to self-defense should include the right to bear arms, and not only the American Constitution, but also the British Constitution, is supposed to uphold that right. Sadly, few British citizens care much about their constitutional documents and have allowed successive governments to erode their rights.

3 responses on “The Right to Bear Arms

  1. Andy C

    since the wording of the bill is “That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions, and as allowed by Law”

    The fact the 1689 Bill of Rights focuses largely on the powers of the executive; the English “right to bear arms” could also be interpreted as “The government is not allowed to control arms without the consent of Parliament”.

    If you really want a gun in the UK, you can get one. All stringent controls do is open up the black market.

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