The Right to Bear Arms

Donal Blaney writes:

It is often said in Britain that innovations, trends or ideas that begin in the United States will pass into British society and culture after five years, and then into European society and culture some time after that. These trends may be musical, dietary, lifestyle and often ultimately political.

Recent years have seen the spread in Britain, and even in Europe, of hip-hop and rap in the musical sphere. Britons in particular have devoured an ever growing number of Big Macs and Starbucks coffees in keeping with the habits of their American cousins, with equally negative effects on the waistline. In response Britons too are fast developing the health conscious reaction to the dietary ills of recent years with a plethora of gyms opening up around the country.

And political trends often translate from across the Pond too: a powerful Reagan was followed by a gentler, kinder Bush who, in turn, was followed by a social democratic spinmeister in Clinton – so in Britain a powerful Thatcher was followed by a gentler, kinder Major who, in turn, was followed by a social democratic spinmeister Blair.

Yet Britons and Americans must realise that these trends do not only travel in one direction. While it is inevitable that such traffic may ordinarily move from the Western Hemisphere eastwards, there are increasingly occasions where the United States does look towards Britain and Europe – not least in respect of its jurisprudence, where the United States Supreme Court has, in recent years, taken far more consideration than is proper of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

A story that has secured some media prominence in Britain in recent concerns Patrick Agin, a 17 year old student at Portsmouth High School, Rhode Island. His hobby is re-enacting medieval battles, an interest that developed out of his mother’s work in making and selling period clothing. Patrick’s graduation photo – or at least the photo that he submitted – shows him dressed in chainmail and armour wielding his favourite sword. He is one of 35,000 members of the US-based Society for Creative Anachronism.

The humourless principal at Portsmouth High School, Robert Littlefield, has said that the flagrant wielding of a potentially dangerous weapon was a clear violation of school regulations.  It is to the credit of the otherwise awful American Civil Liberties Union that the ACLU has filed a case on Patrick’s behalf.

What does this have to do with Britain? Surely this is yet another
example of political correctness gone mad and political correctness is
a creed that developed in the United States, not in Britain.

That may be the case. However I think that there is more to it than
that and it revolves around the left’s concerted attempts to undermine
Second Amendment rights in the United States. Not content with trotting
out arguments domestically that all too often fall on deaf ears (in
particular thanks to the outstanding efforts of the National Rifle
Association), the left has broadened its assault by pointing to the
behaviour of other Western nations. These more ancient (and, in the
left’s eyes, more civilised) nations do not condone gun ownership,
"violent" hobbies or, indeed, capital punishment. "Oh", say America’s
band of America-hating leftists, "if only we could be more like our
European forebears".

Few people in England realise that the English have a Bill of Rights
and that it predates the US Bill of Rights by almost 100 years. The
English Bill of Rights 1689 is, indeed, the basis for the US model
enacted shortly after Independence.

One of the ancient rights and liberties that was codified in the
English Bill of Rights was "that the subjects which are Protestants may
have arms for their  defence suitable to their conditions and as
allowed by law". This is the clear forebear of the Second Amendment to
the US Constitution, the "right to bear arms".

The US version, however, is absolute in its wording: " A well
regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the
right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed".

This has not prevented successive liberal, activist judges who are
incapable of interpreting the US Constitution in a manner consistent
with the intentions of the Founding Fathers from attacking the Second
Amendment. Now, it seems, that a 17 year old High School graduate is
himself to become the latest weapon in the fight between constitutional
purists and revisionist left-wing activists.

The fact that Second Amendment rights are under attack should not
come as a shock. In Britain, where handguns were banned a decade ago
and there have been ever more steady erosions of other gun owners’ and
country sports’ enthusiasts’ rights since then, someone like Patrick
Agin would probably be taken into care and brainwashed out of his
thoroughly nasty and violent hobby (as the bien pensant left would
describe it).

The actions of Patrick’s headteacher highlight the prescriptive and
offensive manner in which those who wield authority all too often abuse
their positions of power. It is not a medieval sword that is dangerous.
It is not even the concept of "the right to bear arms" that is
dangerous. What is truly dangerous are the attitudes and actions of men
such as Patrick’s headteacher, Robert Littlefield. Their zeal in
curtailing the rights of otherwise law-abiding people highlights the
very worst in the human condition.

It is not Patrick’s High School graduation photo that should be
removed from his yearbook – it is Robert Littlefield who should be
removed from Portsmouth High School and attitudes such as his that
should be removed from America’s classrooms.

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15 Responses to The Right to Bear Arms

  1. Angelo Basu says:

    A bit of a straw man this isn’t it? Is there any evidence of British bans on battle re-enactment fans? Nearest I can think of was from about 10 years ago when a performance art group called Kiss My Axe were stopped by the police when travelling to a gig because they had a load of axes, swords, chainsaws and flame-throwers in their van.

  2. Gildas says:

    Is there any evidence of British bans on battle re-enactment fans?

    Um yes actually. The Violent Crime Reduction Act of last year banned replica firearms in such broad language that battle re-enactors, airsofters and movie producers had to go begging ministers for some secondary legislation to protect them from being prosecuted – not sure what the status is with that.

    Under that law, it is harder to own a replica of certain firearms than a real one.

    And in all the hysteria about ‘knife crime’ last year there were calls to ban swords, like they have in Australia.

  3. Gildas says:

    It is to the credit of the otherwise awful American Civil Liberties Union that the ACLU has filed a case on Patrick’s behalf.

    True, though they have filed on First Amendment grounds (which is the best chance of victory).

    One of the reasons the ACLU is so awful is that despite taking a vastly expansive view of the Bill of Rights protections, they claim that when the Second Amendment says ‘people’ it actually means ‘government’.

    English BoR: ‘…that the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law…’

    While I have no doubt that a nice Establishment Judge would happily rule otherwise, that wording would seem to imply that the restrictions created by ministers and police (but not by Parliament) that prevent one putting down ‘self defence’ as a reason to own a firearm on a Shotgun Certificate or Firearms Certicficate application are illegal.

  4. tired and emotional says:

    I want a gun now. See what you done.

  5. Peter Coe says:

    What are you wittering on about Blaney? The 2nd amendment enshrines the right of American citizens to bear arms solely in the specific context of a “well regulated militia”.

    A militia is is a military force raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency. To my knowledge, there is no state of emergency in the US, nor does there exist a well-regulated militia; it has the Minutemen but they’re hardly well-regulated!

    I’m not sure whether Donal’s rant can be ascribed to:

    1) A ludicrous interpretation of “live free or die”
    2) An insane desire to emulate the Dunblaine massacre
    3) A rather sad desperation to find something to whine about lefties over

    In fact, gun control is about the greater good, something the right is supposed to have at least a passing regard for. To quote from The West Wing, which no doubt will set hackles rising straight off the bat:

    “If you combine the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, you’ll get a population roughly the size of the United States. We had 32,000 gun deaths last year. They had 112. Do you think it’s because Americans are more homicidal by nature? Or do you think it’s because those guys have gun control laws?”

  6. Simon Newman says:

    “Do you think it’s because Americans are more homicidal by nature? Or do you think it’s because those guys have gun control laws?”

    It’s both, actually.

    Oh, and for once I agree 100% with Donal’s article. In the 20th century we trusted the government and we let them take away our right to bear arms (never debated in Parliament btw, AIR). Now we have a government we can’t trust, and no guns. New Hampshire has the right idea.

  7. Simon Newman says:

    English BoR: ‘…that the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law…’

    While I have no doubt that a nice Establishment Judge would happily rule otherwise, that wording would seem to imply that the restrictions created by ministers and police (but not by Parliament) that prevent one putting down ‘self defence’ as a reason to own a firearm on a Shotgun Certificate or Firearms Certicficate application are illegal.

    It may not be illegal but it’s certainly against the 1689 BoR.

  8. Gildas says:

    What are you wittering on about Blaney? The 2nd amendment enshrines the right of American citizens to bear arms solely in the specific context of a “well regulated militia”.

    It does nothing of the sort. As Donal wrote, it says:

    “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”.

    That is to say that given that a well regulated (which in 1789 meant well-trained by the way) militia is necessary to the security of a free state the people’s right to bear arms (a pre-existing right you will note, not created by the 2nd Amendment) shall not be infringed. To modern eyes the sentence is clumsy, but that’s only because the collapse of standards of English has rendered us largely unable to parse a sentence with a declaratory clause.

    The First Congress when debating the Bill of Rights specifically rejected an altered version of the 2nd Amendment which would have stated that the right to bear arms was merely something tied to the common defence. They certainly intended to protect the people’s right to own guns (which was an important topic given the pre-Revolution experience of the British Army seizing guns). See the Founders’s writings on the subject of an armed populace if you don’t believe me.

    A militia is is a military force raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.

    You are partly right. But you neglected an important component of what a militia is (at least in the context of American history) – namely a group called up in an emergency, who provide their own weapons.

    As it happens there is also a Federal Law which defines the unorganised militia of the United States as able-bodied males between the ages of 17 and 45, and another that states that the 2nd Amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms irrespective of their position in any militia.

    In fact, gun control is about the greater good, something the right is supposed to have at least a passing regard for.

    I’m on the right because I believe in tradition and our ancient liberties, not some nebulous concept of the greater good to be determined by my betters. There’s a guy in No. 10 Downing Street who has a great line on the greater good and the perfectibility of man, but I don’t think of him as very representative of conservatism or right-wing principles.

    Now let me turn to what you seem to think is your debate winning assertion:

    “If you combine the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, you’ll get a population roughly the size of the United States. We had 32,000 gun deaths last year. They had 112. Do you think it’s because Americans are more homicidal by nature? Or do you think it’s because those guys have gun control laws?”

    The people who write for the West Wing are very clever (as an aside I’ve always wondered why a show about an openly religous, big-government guy who bombs lots of Third World countries is meant to be a reproach on the Bush Administration) but they were obviously asleep at the wheel the day they came up with that one:

    1. Switzerland and Sweden have very liberal gun laws – its easier to own a full-auto weapon there than in Texas! France and Germany also have pretty open gun laws.

    2. I don’t dispute that the non-US total deaths will be the lower one but unless you can give me a cite for a year and show the methodology I flat out don’t believe you that the number was as low as 112.

    3. The 32000 figure for the US includes suicides, what the UK would call manslaughter and lawful killings by police and civilians as well as murders.

    When you do a scientific job of it (not easy given different reporting rules and different legal systems) you find that the US has a higher murder rate than some countries with stricter laws, and a lower murder rate than other countries with stricter laws. You would also find rates for all other types of crime are lower in the US than in most western nations.

  9. Gildas says:

    Now we have a government we can’t trust, and no guns. New Hampshire has the right idea.

    The greatest tragedy of guns in the UK is that people have no idea of the freedom they have lost, or how they lost it.

    http://www.davekopel.com/2a/LawRev/SlipperySlope.htm

    http://www.claytoncramer.com/firear~1.htm

  10. tired and emotional says:

    Now I really do want a gun. Especially with the Muslim WPC who refuses to shake hands with Commissioner of Police Ian Blair on religious grounds. Could she defend my life against the attack of a fellow Muslim given what Muhammad says about standing against a believer on behalf of an unbeliever?

    Don’t worry though, a Muslim ranting-head commented, if a man were dying Muslim law would permit her to help immediately… and there was me thinking her job was to uphold English law.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2559390,00.html

  11. Denis Cooper says:

    http://www.outlawjournalism.com:80/news/?p=2791

    “Paramilitary Assault Teams Terrorizing America”

    “Former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration Paul Craig Roberts joined Alex Jones yesterday to talk about his latest article which highlights the militarization of American police and how SWAT teams are being used to terrorize recreational drug users and innocent people.

    Roberts’ article, The Empire Turns Its Guns on the Citizenry, cites a 2006 CATO report that warns against the out of control use and abuse of paramilitary police raids.

    “There are now 17,000 local America police forces that are armed with rocket launchers, bazookas, heavy machine guns, all kinds of chemical sprays – in fact some of them have tanks, you have now local police departments that are equipped beyond the standard of American heavy infantry,” said Roberts.

    “In recent years there have been 40,000 or more callouts of SWAT teams annually – that would be 110 times a day – have you read about 110 hostage or terrorist events every day last year?” ”

    “Roberts highlighted the fact that SWAT teams receive military hardware and training and because there are not enough hostage or other dangerous situations to keep them occupied they are being used to serve warrants on non-threatening individuals.

    The ultimate goal of the paramilitary assault teams, many of whose numbers across the country will be boosted when troops arrive back from Iraq, is mass gun confiscation on the scale that we saw during Hurricane Katrina, where everyone from 80-year-old grandmothers to rich mansion owners in the dry areas had their weapons seized. Soldiers in Iraq have been trained to carry out door to door raids and have been utilized for this function thousands of times.”

  12. Kevin Sampson says:

    ‘Paramilitary Assault Teams Terrorizing America’

    ‘you have now local police departments that are equipped beyond the standard of American heavy infantry’

    ‘The ultimate goal of the paramilitary assault teams, many of whose numbers across the country will be boosted when troops arrive back from Iraq, is mass gun confiscation on the scale that we saw during Hurricane Katrina’

    LOL!!

  13. VanO says:

    Allow me, if you will, to enter the fray started by Peter Coe as to his take on our Second Amendment and its conferred rights. This amendment to our Bill of Rights, which, as was stated, grew out of the English Bill of Rights, was deemed necessary by the Founding Fathers for a number of reasons. Among them, was the belief that the right to arms was an individual right. The military connotation of bearing arms does not neccessarily determine the meaning of a right to bear arms. If all it meant was the right to be a soldier or serve in the military, whether in the militia or in the Army, it would hardly be a ‘cherished’ right and would never have reached constitutional status in the Bill of Rights. The ‘right’ to be a soldier does not make much sense. Life in the military is dangerous and lonely, and a constitutionally protected claim or entitlement to serve in uniform does not have to exist in order for individuals to exist if they so choose. Moreover, the right to bear arms does not necessarily have a military connotation because Pennsylvania, whose Constitution of 1776 first used the phrase ‘the right to bear arms,’ did not even have a state militia. In Pennsylvania, therefore, the right to arms was devoid of military significance. Such significance need not necessarily be inferred even with respect to states that had militias. ‘Bearing arms’ could just mean ‘having arms.’ As in Blackstone’s Commentaries, where he spoke expressly of the ‘right to have arms.’ An individual could bear arms without being a soldier or militiaman. As further evidence in support of my statements above, I would submit that every other right in the Bill of Rights specifically refers to, ‘the People.’ As in, “you and I.” “The American people.” “The common-folk.” None of the provisions set forth in the Bill of Rights was intended for, nor meant to infer special treatment for, “the elite class.” On the contrary, this was why the Founding Fathers framed their language in such broad terms. In every one of the articles in this document, ‘We the People,’ specifically refers to the broad consensus of the American individual. So, how then, could anyone possibly believe that the context of the phrase, “the People,” when used in the very same application throughout every other article within the Bill of Rights, would then suddenly and inexplicably change focus and/or direction and now refer to, “the People” in this new context as being instead; ‘the military?’ The short answer is – they couldn’t.

  14. Interesting post. I actually generally support the ACLU and think that among other things, they have done a fantastic job of defending the freedom of speech that we all hold so dear, even by those such as the KKK and neo-nazis. I also support the EFF for that reason.

    I remember hearing recently that the UK was considering a ban on swords. I strongly object to that and support those Sikhs and others who have been working to oppose it.

    I do think, though, that you misread the second amendment by skimming over the words “well regulated militia.” The courts have routinely held that this does not include the right, for example, to keep a howitzer in your garage, and that the states have the right to appropriately regulate such a militia. This doesn’t mean that there is not an individual rights component, but that it is more limited than some would argue. (I would argue that federal assault rifle bans would be unconstitutional, for example, but not bans on specific groups of individuals such as convicted felons from owning weapons.)

  15. I would also point out the following:

    The courts have generally held that the second ammendment does not prohibit the states from acting to restrict gun ownership. This is probably fair because a well regulated militia would actually mean “well trained, disciplined, and organized.” In short one does not have a right to own a weapon unless it is grounded in the necessity of a well-regulated militia or grounded in other rights (free excersize would suggest that Sikh’s should be allowed to wear swords in public, for example).

    This being said, one of the key aspects of a militia is that militiamen are expected to provide their own weapons. For this reason (and this reason alone) it is likely that this right provides a general but not absolute right for individuals to own military rifles, carbines, and other basic infantry weapons.

    However, it does not mean that any individual necessarily has this right. There is no reason in reading this amendment to assume that convicted felons would still maintain the right, nor would it mean that the states could not further regulate within certain reason the types of weapons available.

    So, I am not sure what the courts got wrong here. The jurisprudence that I have been able to locate on the federal assault weapons bans have only centered on charges where the individual charged was *also* in violation of state bans due to being a convicted felon. I am, however, glad that the law has lapsed simply because I don’t like seeing laws on the books which are likely to be unconstitutional.

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