A Right to Bear Arms

State and Federal Bills of Rights and Constitutional Guarantees

by Stephen P. Halbrook

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Cover image for A Right to Bear Arms

October 1989


Pages 173
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/U.S. Public Policy and Administration
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The right to keep and bear arms was considered a fundamental, individual right in the original 14 states (the 13 colonies and Vermont) from the pre-Revolutionary period through the adoption of the federal Bill of Rights in 1791. A Right to Bear Arms is the first book to demonstrate the deprivation of this right as a causal factor to the American Revolution. The book also examines the significance of the right to bear arms in each of the first states and the state influences on the adoption of the Second Amendment to the federal Constitution.

This is the first book ever published on the immediate origins of the right to bear arms in the state and federal bill of rights. The work relies primarily on original sources such as period newspapers, constitutional convention debates, and the writings of the framers of the first state constitutions. The epilogue, Constitutional Conventions in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, accounts for changes in the bills of rights that have affected the issue of the right to bear arms. Considering the bicentennial of the federal Bill of Rights, being celebrated in 1989-1991, and the current gun control controversy, this book is a valuable source to historians, political scientists, law libraries, and special interest groups.

Table of Contents

PrefaceThe Inhabitants of Boston Disarmed"The Right to Bear Arms" in the State Declarations of Rights"A Well Regulated Militia" in the State Declarations of RightsConstitutions Without Bills of RightsCharters Without ConstitutionsEpilogue: Constitutional Conventions in the Nineteenth and Twentieth CenturiesSelected BibliographyIndex



A companion piece to Halbrook's previously published That Every Man Be Armed, which examined the history and philosophy surrounding the adoption of the US Constitution's Second Amendment, the present work covers the evolution of the right to keep and bear arms from shortly before the American Revolution to the state constitutional conventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. The author, an attorney, attempts to show the long-standing nature of the right to keep and bear arms in the US by examining British attempts to disarm the colonists of Boston from 1768 to 1775 and by reviewing the activities of the various states to protect this right from the late 18th to the late 20th centuries. Halbrook is to be commended for his extensive research and for his use of original sources to document his material. . . . Recommended for general readers and above.—Choice


. . . In A Right to Bear Arms--State and Federal Bills of Rights and Constitutional Guarantees Fairfax County attorney Stephen P. Halbrook fills a void in scholarship by focusing on early state guarantees. While he ranges into the 19th and 20th centuries, his concentration is on the colonial experience and state provisions predating the adoption of the Bill of Rights. He reminds us just how fundamental the right to keep and bear arms was to the founders. Halbrook is one of the nation's leading authorities on the history of the Second Amendment. The book is both relatively short and eminently readable. His extensive use of primary sources, particularly that of contemporary newspapers, make this book especially interesting.—Virginia Lawyer

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