It Isn’t About Duck Hunting: The British Origins of the Right to Arms


It Isn’t About Duck Hunting: The British Origins of the Right to Arms

Kopel, David B.

Michigan Law Review Vol. 93 (1995)

Abstract

Almost as long as Americans have been discussing guns and government restrictions on guns, they have been looking to the example set by Great Britain. And almost without exception, they have misunderstood the legal and social reality of gun control in Great Britain. Historian Joyce Lee Malcolm’s new book, To Keep and Bear Arms, does much to correct the confused American mind, particularly regarding the right to bear arms in Great Britain in the latter half of the seventeenth century—a period of internal turmoil and repression that culminated in the adoption of a British Bill of Rights including an explicit right to arms. The British Bill of Rights is a direct ancestor of the Second Amendment in the American Bill of Rights.



In earlier times, prominent American legal commentators tended to view the British right to arms as barely worth the paper on which it was written. St. George Tucker, author of the American version of Blackstone’s Commentaries and the legal commentator most often cited by the U.S. Supreme Court for a quarter of a century, claimed that “[w]hoever examines the forest, and game laws in the British code, will readily perceive that the right of keeping arms is effectually taken away from the people of England.” Moreover, claimed Tucker, “not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.”

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