Posted by: L | May 15, 2007

The Right to Self-Defense Has a Long History…

In “The Second Amendment and the Historiography of the Bill of Rights,” David T. Hardy writes:

“The existence of an English militia, comprised not of specialized units but of essentially the entire male population, far antedates even the Norman Conquest.[12] By 1181, every English freeman was required annually to prove ownership of arms proportionate to his landholdings.[13] In 1253, even serfs were required to prove annually that they owned a spear and dagger.[14] Subsequent enactments ordered all healthy Englishmen to own longbows, to train their sons in archery from age seven, and to abstain from a variety of outdoor sports that diverted commoners from the archery ranges.[15] By the fifteenth century, Englishmen already regarded universal armament for national defense as a critical element in their development of “government under law.”[16] This perception of citizen armament as (p.8)a peculiarly English virtue was thereafter reinforced by the rise of royal absolutism on the Continent,[17] with consequent limitation on firearm possession in France and the Empire. Long after her continental counterparts had banned or severely restricted firearms ownership,[18] Elizabeth still struggled to stop her subjects from drawing pistols in church, or firing them in the churchyard.[19]

My Comment:

As the founders conceived it, the right to self-defense drew both from collectivist and individualist strands in Anglophone political thinking. The collectivist element came from the Classical Republican tradition, the individualist from the Radicals (who also styled themselves Republicans).

And the right to self defense found its theoretical and practical underpinning earlier than Locke or the Enlightenment, in the writings of Machiavelli and in the disorder of the English civil war. Actually, it goes back even earlier, to before the Norman Conquest, as Hardy points out.

From this history, we know that the right to bear arms is both a right of individuals to self-defense against the encroachment of the state and a right of states to have organized reserve units (“militias”).

Being free to defend yourself is absolutely central to the Anglo-American (as opposed to the European) political tradition.

More here at the blog, “Arms and the Law.”

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