As a result of a steadily rising crime rate in recent years, a sharp public debate over the merits of federal firearms regulation has developed. "Crime in the streets" has become a national preoccupation; politicians cry out for "law and order"; and the handgun has become a target of attention. The number of robberies jumped from 138,000 in 1965 to 376,000 in 1972, while murders committed by guns shot up from 5,015 to 10,379 in the same period, and the proportion of cases in which the murder weapon was a firearm rose from 57.2 percent to 65.6 percent.1 The recent attempt on the life of President Ford in Sacramento by an erstwhile member of the "Manson Gang" serves to heighten the terror of a nation already stunned by the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, and the maiming of George Wallace. Many people assert that these tragedies could have been prevented by keeping the murder weapons out of the hands that used them. Others vehemently dispute this claim.
The free flow of firearms across state lines has undermined the traditional view of crime and gun control as local problems. In New York City, long noted for strict regulation of all types of weapons, only 19 percent of the 390 homicides of 1960 involved pistols, by 1972, this proportion had jumped to 49 percent of 1,691. In 1973, there were only 28,000 lawfully possessed handguns in the nation's largest city, but police estimated that there were as many as 1.3 million illegal handguns, mostly imported from southern states with lax laws.2 These statistics give credence to the arguments of proponents of gun control that federal action is needed, if only to make local laws enforceable.
The great majority of the American people now support registration of both handguns and rifles. When the Gallup Poll asked the question: "Do you favor or oppose registration of
all firearms?" in a recent survey, more than two-thirds (67 percent) favored the concept, while 27 percent opposed it, and 6 percent had no opinion. Even gun-owners endorsed registration by a margin of 55 percent to 39 percent with 6 percent undecided.3 Yet, although the intensity of belief
J.D., 1972 Stanford University; Member of the California Bar.
1 U.S. BUREAU OF THE CENSUS, STATISTICAL ABSTRACT OF THE UNITED STATES: 1974, at 147-51. (95th ed. 1974).
is undoubtedly far stronger in the minority than in the majority Congress has remained dormant.4 The zeal of those individuals dedicated to the preservation of the "right to keep and bear arms" in its present form cannot be doubted.
American history has often seen social and political problems transformed into constitutional issues.5 The gun control issue is no exception to this phenomenon, and particular attention has been focused on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides: "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."
Proponents of gun control seize the phrase "a well regulated Militia" and find in it the sole purpose of the constitutional guarantee. They therefore assert that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" is a collective right which protects only members of the organized militia, e.g., the National Guard, and only in the performance of their duties. It is their belief that no one else can claim a personal right to keep and bear arms for any purpose whatsoever, criminal or
Opponents maintain that having guns is a constitutionally protected individual right, similar to other guarantees of the Bill of Rights. Some hold this right to be absolute, while others would allow reasonable restrictions, perhaps even licensing and registration. Still others would limit the protection of the Second Amendment to individuals capable of military service and to weapons useful for military purposes. The essential characteristic of the "individualist" interpretation, as opposed to the "collectivist" view, is that the Second Amendment precludes, to some extent at least, congressional interference in the private use of firearms for lawful purposes such as target shooting, hunting and self-defense.
It is one of the ironies of contemporary politics that the many of the most vocal supporters of "law and order" are persistent critics of federal firearms regulation. "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" is their philosophy. Firearms in private hands are viewed as a means of protecting an individual's life and property, as well as a factor in helping to preserve the Republic against foreign and domestic enemies. Whereas strict constructionism is often the preferred doctrine in interpreting the constitutional rights of criminals, such a narrow view of the Second Amendment is unacceptable. Far from being narrowly construed, the Second Amendment is held out to be a bulwark of human freedom and dignity as well as a means of safeguarding the rights of the individual against encroachment by the federal government. It thus becomes a weapon in the arsenal of argument
Congressional lethargy cannot be attributed to a lack of proposed legislation. At every session of the Congress, a number of bills for the control of handguns and other weaponry are introduced, only to be shunted to committee and never heard from again. For example, the following is only a partial listing of proffered statutes for the First Session of the 94th Congress: S. 750 was introduced by Senator Hart (Mich.) to prohibit the importation, manufacture, sale, purchase, transfer, receipt, possession or transportation of handguns unless authorized by federal or state authorities. S. 1477, introduced by Senator Kennedy (Mass.) and known as the Federal Handgun Control Act of 1975 is basically a registration and licensing statute. It would prohibit the private sale or manufacture of handguns under six inches in length. (Both bills are currently pending in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.)
S. 1880, authored by Senator Bayh (Ind.) was passed by the Senate by a vote of 68 to 25, only to die on the floor of the House of Representatives. Entitled the Violent Crime and Repeat Offender Act of 1975, it would have provided additional penalties for felonies committed with firearms, and required the prompt reporting of theft of firearms by licensees.
In addition, there is a major bill pending in the House of Representative which is not duplicated in the Senate. H.R. 2381 would prohibit the importation and manufacture of hollow-point bullets. This bill is now pending in the House Ways and Means Committee as well as in the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee.
5See, e.g., Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) (the question of abortion); Schechter Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935) (the New Deal's National Recovery Administration); Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857) (the spread of slavery controversy).
against gun control, and each new proposal is said to infringe upon the rights of the people to keep and bear arms.
The clash between "collectivist" and "individualist" interpretations of the Second Amendment has not been definitely resolved. Even members of Congress believe that their power to regulate firearms is limited by the existence of an individual right to have, to hold, and to use them. Senator Hugh Scott, Republican of Pennsylvania, writes in Guns & Ammo magazine: "As my record shows, I have always defended the right-to-bear-arms provision of the Second Amendment. I have a gun in my own home and I certainly intend to keep it."6
There has been very little case law construing the Second Amendment, perhaps because there has been very little federal legislation on the subject of firearms. This may change, and it may become necessary for the Supreme Court to rule upon constitutional challenges to federal statutes based on the Second Amendment. Even before this occurs, it would be helpful to dispel
the uncertainties that exist in Congress about the extent of federal legislative power.
In order to determine accurately the intended meaning of the Second Amendment, it is necessary to delve into history. It is necessary to consider the very nature of a constitutional guarantee — whether it is an inherent, fundamental right, derived from abstract human nature and natural law or, alternatively, a restriction on governmental power imposed after experience with abuse of power.
Historically, the right to keep and bear arms has been closely intertwined with questions of political sovereignty, the right of revolution, civil and military power, military organization, crime and personal security. The Second Amendment was written neither by accident nor without purpose; it was the product of centuries of Anglo-American legal and political experience. This development will be examined in order to determine whether the "collectivist" or "individualist" construction of the Second Amendment is correct.7
II. The Evolution of British Military Power
Victorious at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror was able to assert personal ownership over all the land of England and sovereignty over its people. All power emanated from the King, and all persons held their property and privileges at his sufferance.
Feudal society was organized along military lines in 1181. King Henry II, great grandson of the Conqueror, issued the Assize of Arms, which formalized the military duties of subjects. The first three articles of the decree specify what armament each level of society is to maintain — ranging from the holder of a knight's fee, who must equip himself with a hauberk, a helmet, a shield and a lance, down to the poorest freeman armed only with an iron headpiece and a lance. The philosophy of the law is expressed in the fourth article, which is as follows:
Moreover, let each and every one of them swear that before the feast of St. Hilary he will possess these arms and will bear allegiance to the lord king, Henry, namely the son of the Empress Maud, and that he will bear these arms in his service according to his order
Scott, Leading Senator Admits Gun Law Mistake!, Mar. 1970 GUNS & AMMO., 46, 47.
For an earlier article which discusses the "collectivist" versus the "individualist" approach to the Second Amendment, see Feller & Gotting, The Second Amendment: A Second Look, 61 Nw. U.L. REV. 46 (1966-67). The authors conclude: "[T]he 'right of the people' refers to the collective right of the body politic of each state to be under the protection of an independent, effective state militia". Id. at 69. (citation omitted). But see Hays, The Right to Bear Arms, a Study in Judicial Misinterpretation, 2 WM. & MARY L. REV. 381 (1960). Hays contends that the right to bear arms is an individual one.
and in allegiance to the lord king and his realm. And let none of those who hold these arms sell them or pledge them or offer them, or in any other way alienate them; neither let a lord in any way deprive his men of them either by forfeiture or gift, or as surety or in any other manner.8
The remainder of the statute prescribes rules and procedures governing its administration. The Assize of Arms marked the beginning of the militia system; its clear purpose was to strengthen and maintain the King's authority.
In 1215, the rebellious Norman barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, a document justly regarded as the foundation of Anglo-American freedom. The Great Charter consists of sixty-three articles which set forth in great detail certain restrictions on the King's prerogative. Its introductory article concludes, "Ye have also granted to all the free men of Our kingdom, for Us and Our heirs forever, all the liberties underwritten, to have and to hold to them and their heirs of Us and Our heirs."9 Implicit in this statement is the fact that sovereignty is deemed to be vested in the office of kingship, and that the King is restricting his powers in favor of his subjects. Roscoe Pound makes this comment on the Magna Carta:
The ground plan to which the common-law polity has built ever since was given by the Great Charter. It was not merely the first attempt to put in legal terms what became the leading ideas of constitutional government. It put them in the form of limitations on the exercise of authority, not of concessions to free human action from authority. It put them as legal propositions, so that they could and did come to be a part of the ordinary law of the land invoked like any other legal precepts in the ordinary course of orderly litigation. Moreover, it did not put them abstractly. In characteristic English fashion it put them concretely in the form of a body of specific provisions for present ills, not a body of general declarations in universal terms. Herein, perhaps, is the secret of its enduring vitality.10
Centuries were to pass before an English sovereign would again proclaim the doctrine of unrestricted royal power which William the Conqueror had established by force of arms, and which King John had lost in the same manner.
Even though medieval England had not yet developed firearms, the government found it necessary to severely restrict such weapons as did exist. In 1328 Parliament passed the celebrated Statute of Northhampton, which made it an offense to ride armed at night, or by day in fairs, markets, or in the presence of king's ministers.11
The fifteenth century dynastic struggle known as the War of Roses virtually destroyed the feudal system, and prepared the way for a new consolidation of royal power beginning with the coronation of Henry Tudor as King Henry VII in 1485. The Tudors maintained a large degree of national unity. Their task was made easier by practical applications of gunpowder. The royal cannon made resistance by the nobility futile.
Perhaps because of the weakness of their hereditary claims, the Tudor monarchs attempted to control and manipulate Parliament, rather than assert the royal prerogative in defiance of
THE ASSIZE OF ARMS, ¶4 (1181), in 2 ENGLISH HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS 416 (D. Douglas &G. Greenaway ed. 1953).
9 MAGNA CARTA: TEXT AND COMMENTARY 34 (A.E.D. Howard ed. 1964).
10 R. POUND, THE DEVELOPMENT OF CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES OF LIBERTY 18-19 (1957).
11 STATUTE OF NORTHHAMPTON, 2 Edw. 3, c.3 (1328).
Parliament. It was even admitted that Parliament could regulate the succession to the throne, acting in conjunction with the reigning monarch, of course. In the reign of Elizabeth, it was declared to be high treason to deny that Parliament and the Queen could "make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to limit and bind the crown of this realm, and the descent, limitation, inheritance, and government thereof."12
The long war with the Hapsburg Empire that began at the time of the Spanish Armada contributed to an upsurge of national sentiment. Faith in the English militia was vindicated as free men had held their own against the massive, professional standing armies of the Spanish King. Englishmen came to believe the militia was the best security for their country and their liberties.
At the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, King James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne as James I. The advent of the House of Stuart marked the beginning of a century of religious and political struggle between Crown and Parliament. Out of this struggle, what we know as the English Constitution emerged. The monarchy was finally and firmly restricted, but preserved, the supremacy of Parliament was established, the common law became a strong, independent force, and the 1iberties of the people were encased in a Bill of Rights.
Although a model constitutional monarch in some respects, in the realm of political theory, James I challenged the sensibilities of the nation. He boldly proclaimed the divine right theory of government — that kings hold their thrones by the will of God alone, and not by the will of peoples or parliaments. Typical of his sentiment are these excerpts from his speech to Parliament on March 21, 1610:
The State of MONARCHIE is the spremest thing upon earth: For Kings are not onely GODS Lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon GODS throne, but even by GOD himselfe they are called Gods.... In the Scriptures Kings are called Gods, and so their power after a certaine relation compared to the Divine Power.
The King concluded that "to dispute what GOD may doe, is blasphemie," and thus it is
"sedition in Subjects, to dispute what a King may do in the height of his power."13 Here was a King not restricted by any human law.
Neither the legal profession nor Parliament was willing to accept such a boundless royal prerogative. Having grown up in the civil law tradition of Scotland, James I was indifferent to the common law, but the English lawyers argued that, while the King had many privileges at common law, he was limited by and subordinate to it. When James I asserted that Parliament existed only by "the grace and permission of our ancestors and us,"14 the House of Commons passed the famous Protestation of December 18, 1621, which asserted:
That the Liberties, Franchises, Privileges and Jurisdictions of Parliament, are the ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England; and that the arduous and urgent affairs concerning the King, State and defence of the realm, and of the Church of England, and the making and maintenance of laws, and redress of michiefs and grievances, which daily happen within this realm, are proper subjects and matter of counsel and debate in Parliament: and that in the handling and proceeding of those businesses every member
12 Treasons Act, 13 Eliz. 1, c.l (1571).
13 KING JAMES I, THE WORKES OF THE MOST HIGH AND MIGHTIE PRINCE JAMES 529, 531 (1916).
14 1 PARL. HIST. ENG. 1351 (1621).
of the House hath, and of right ought to have, Freedom of Speech, to propound, treat, reason and bring to conclusion the same....15
The King's response was to walk into the House of Commons and to tear from the Journal the page containing these words.
The leading legal theorist of the time was Sir Edward Coke, whose writings and leadership were to enhance the prestige of the common law, and bring it into alliance with Parliament against the monarchy. In response to an inquiry from James I, Coke and his colleagues declared:
That the King by his proclamation cannot create any offence which was not an offence before, for then he may alter the law of the land by his proclamation in a high point; for if he may create an offence where none is, upon that ensues fine and imprisonment...; That the King hath no prerogative, but that which the law of the land allows him....16
The common law courts asserted jurisdiction to inquire into the legality of acts of servants of the Crown, and thus began the doctrine of the rule of law.
In response to the wars waged by James I's improvident heir, Charles I, Parliament enacted the Petition of Right in 1628, inspired and drafted largely by Coke. The petition was an
assertion of the power of Parliament and the common law, and contained a long list of grievances. The abuses of the King's military power — billeting, martial law, imprisonment without trial, and forced loans — were particularly resented. Charles I had no choice but to sign the petition, since he needed revenues from Parliament, but he secretly consulted his judges who assured him that his signature would not be binding. Soon afterward, in 1629, the King dissolved Parliament and began the long period of personal rule which was- to end in the Great Rebellion.
Charles I was short of money, and revived an ancient tax; his judges upheld the legality of this action in the famous Ship Money case of 1635. The King also wished to strengthen the Church of England, the mainstay of the monarchy. The ecclesiastical canons of 1640 emphatically affirmed the theory of Divine Right of Kings and, in addition, promulgated the doctrine of nonresistance:
For subjects to bear arms against their kings, offensive or defensive, upon any pretence whatsoever, is at least to resist the powers which are ordained of God; and though they do not invade but only resist, St. Paul tells them plainly they shall receive to themselves damnation.17
This doctrine of "nonresistance" was to have an important role in religion and politics in both England and America, for the next century and a half.
Faced with a Scottish rebellion, Charles I was forced to summon the English Parliament in 1640 in order to obtain the resources necessary to put down the insurrection. After eleven years of personal royal government, Parliament trusted neither the King nor his leading minister, the Earl of Strafford. Parliament demanded a wide array of religious and political concessions, including the
15Id. at 1361.
16 7 THE REPORTS OF SIR EDWARD COKE, KNT 76 (G. Wilson trans. 1777).
Constitutions and Cannons Ecclesiastical, Treated Upon by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (1640), in 1 SYNODALIA 390-91 (E. Cardwell ed. 1842).
removal of Strafford as governor of Ireland and the disbanding of the strong army he had created there. When the King acceded to these demands, Ireland rebelled.
Charles I was now desperate. Scotland and Ireland were in open rebellion, and the Parliament of England was dominated by the King's enemies. The King had made numerous concessions, but to no avail. Strafford wanted to bring John Pym, the parliamentary leader, to trial for treasonable dealings with the Scottish army invading England, but Pym struck first with a bill of attainder against Strafford. The main charge was the creation of a powerful army in Ireland for the purpose of crushing opposition in England. The bill of attainder passed, and the King was forced to send his ablest servant to the scaffold in 1641.
Still unsatisfied, Parliament presented its Nineteen Propositions as an ultimatum to the King in 1642. The Propositions, if acceded to, would have established a very limited monarchy with the King surrendering the power of the sword and Parliament obtaining complete control over the militia. Instead, the King raised the royal standard at Nottingham and proclaimed Parliament to be in rebellion. Thus began the Civil Wars, which resulted in the decapitation of Charles I and the proclamation of a republic in 1649.
Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power by force of arms and the creation of a disciplined standing army. Cromwell soon quarreled with Parliament and assumed the role of a military dictator. The soldiers supported their leader because Parliament proposed to disband much of the army thus depriving them of their livelihood, and also because they feared that Parliament might once again come under the control of the Anglicans, who would revive persecution of the Puritan sects.
It was soon proposed that Cromwell be made king, but only because that office would have definite constitutional restrictions. Finally Cromwell assumed the title of Lord Protector in 1653, under a written constitution that gave him virtually royal power. Although Cromwell's government brought domestic peace and ruled efficiently, it did not gain in popularity. The Lord Protector's government was created and maintained by bayonets, and the people came to hate it. The end of the Protectorate and its legacy have been described by historian Eric Sheppard as follows:
The great soldier's death in 1658, while the army he had made was still fighting victoriously in Flanders, marked the beginning of the end of that army's rule; its leaders soon had no choice but to accept the inevitable, and in May 1660 the red coats of the New Model were arrayed on Blackheath to do honor to the monarch whom nine years before it had hunted into exile. A few months later, setting an example which has since been followed by all the great armies of England, it... laid down its arms and passed silently and peacefully into the pursuits of peace, leaving behind it, in the minds of the governing class and the people, besides a deservedly high military reputation, a legacy of hatred and distrust of all standing armies which has endured to our own day.18
The mood of England at the restoration of Charles II, son of the martyred Charles I, was one of relief and enthusiasm. An act was swiftly passed which recited that "the people of this kingdom lie under a great burden and charge in the maintenance and payment of the present army," and provided that it should be disbanded with "all convenient speed."19
18 E. SHEPPARD, A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ARMY (4th ed. 1959).
19 Disbanding Act, 12 Car. 2, c. 15 (1660).
Once again reliance for the country's security was placed in the militia system, which had fallen into disuse after two decades of professional armies, civil wars and military government. Statutes were passed in 1661 and 1662 declaring that the King had the sole right of command and disposition of the militia, and providing for its organization.20 Winston Churchill makes this comment on the Cavalier Parliament, which had restored the monarchy:
It rendered all honour to the King. It had no intention of being governed by him. The many landed gentry who had been impoverished in the royal cause were not blind monarchists. They did not mean to part with any of the Parliamentary rights which had been gained in the struggle. They were ready to make provision for the defence of the country by means of militia; but the militia must be controlled by the Lord-Lieutenants of the counties. They vehemently asserted the supremacy of the Crown over the armed forces; but they took care that the only troops in the country should be under the local control of their own class. Thus not only the King but Parliament was without an army. The repository of force had now become the county families and gentry.21
The revival of the militia did not mean that the King was forbidden to raise and maintain armies. He had no means of doing so, however, because Parliament held the purse strings, and the quartering of soldiers had been condemned since the days of the Petition of Right.
Foreign wars made the development of a standing army inevitable, and it reached 16,000 men by the end of the reign of Charles EL It was done with the consent of Parliament, and English country gentlemen were secure in their control of the domestic armed power — the militia. In addition, guns were taken out of the hands of the common people. Among the conditions of a 1670 statute was one that no person, other than heirs of the nobility, could have a gun unless he owned land with a yearly value of £100.22 The protection of the people's liberties was thus committed entirely to Parliament and other legal institutions. The possibility of a citizen army, such as that created by Oliver Cromwell, was precluded.
In the reign of Charles II, religious controversy dominated politics. The Cavalier Parliament wished to maintain the established Anglican Church and persecute dissenters, Catholic and Puritan alike. Parliament was also alarmed by the prospect that the King's Catholic brother, the Duke of York, would succeed to the throne. A parliamentary attempt to exclude the Duke failed, but in 1673 and 1678, two Test Acts were passed, which barred Catholics from all civil and military
offices and from both Houses of Parliament.23
In 1685, the Catholic Duke of York ascended to the throne of James II. The new King quieted the fears of his subjects by proclaiming his intention to maintain church and state as they were by law established. The people were also comforted by the fact that the heirs to the throne were his Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne, and his Protestant nephew, William of Orange, stadtholder of the Dutch Republic and Mary's husband. Because of the Test Acts, James II inherited an entirely Protestant government.
20 First Militia Act, 13 Car. 2, Stat. I. c. 6 (1661); Second Militia Act, 14 Car. 2, c. 3 (1662).
21 2 W. CHURCHILL, A HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES 336 (1956).
22 Game Preservation Act, 22 Car. 2, c. 25, § 3 (1670).
23 Test Act. 25 Car. 2, c. 2. (1673); Parliamentary Test Act, 30 Car. 2, Stat. 2, c. 1 (1678) (an exemption allowed the Duke of York to retain his seat in the House of Lords).
At the same time a rebellion, led by the Duke of Monmouth, broke out in the western counties. The King successfully crushed the uprising, but in the process succeeded in doubling his standing army to 30,000 men, granting commissions to catholic officers, and bringing in recruits from Catholic Ireland. In addition he quartered his new army in private homes. These arbitrary actions were in direct violation of previous parliamentary proclamations.
James II then asked Parliament to repeal the Test Acts and the Habeas Corpus Act, which Parliament refused to do. The King also asked the representatives of the nation to abandon their reliance on the militia, in favor of standing armies:
My Lords and Gentlemen,
After the storm that seemed to be coming upon us when we parted last, I am glad to meet you all again in so great Peace and Quietness. God Almighty be praised, by those Blessing that Rebellion was suppressed: But when we reflect, what an inconsiderable Number of Men began it, and how long they carried [it] on without any Opposition, I hope every-body will be convinced, that the Militia, which hath hitherto been so much depended on, is not sufficient for such Occasions; and that there is nothing but a good Force of well disciplined Troops in constant Pay, that can defend us from such, as, either at Home or Abroad, are disposed to disturb us...24
John Dryden, the poet, shared the King's attitude toward the militia when he wrote these timeless words:
The country rings around with loud alarms,
And raw in fields the rude militia swarms;
Mouths without hands; maintained at vast expense,
In peace a charge, in war a weak defence;
Stout once a month they march, a blustering band, And
ever, but in times of need, at hand.
This was the morn when, issuing on the guard,
Drawn up in rank and file they stood prepared
Of seeming arms to make a short essay,
Then hasten to be drunk, the business of the day.25
Parliament adjourned in 1686 without resolving any of the basic issues. The King kept his army and pursued his policies through extra-parliamentary means.
To get rid of the Test Act, and to revive the royal prerogative at the same time, the King arranged a collusive lawsuit. A coachman in the service of a Roman Catholic officer brought suit under the Test Act to recover the statutory reward for discovering violators, and the officer pleaded a royal dispensation in defense. The King's judges in Godden v. Hales26upheld the validity of the dispensation and gave judgment for the defendant. Lord Chief Justice Herbert stated:
24 9 H.C. JOUR. 756 (1685).
25 J. DRYDEN, CYMON AND IPHIGENIA, IN THE POETICAL WORKS OF JOHN DRYDEN 641 (W. Christie ed. 1893).
26 Godden v. Hales, 89 Eng. Rep. 1050 (ex. 1686), as reported in, 11 STATE TRIALS 66 (T. Howell comp. 1811).
We are satisfied in our judgments before, and having the concurrence of eleven out of twelve, we think we may very well declare an opinion of the court to be, that the King may dispense in this case: and the judges go upon these grounds;
1. That the kings of England are sovereign princes.
2. That the laws of England are the king's laws.
3. That therefore 'tis an inseparable prerogative in the kings of England, to dispense with penal laws in particular cases and upon particular necessary reasons.
4. That of those reasons and those necessities the king himself is sole judge: And then, which is consequent upon all,
5. That this is not a trust invested in or granted to the king by the people, but the ancient remains of the sovereign power and prerogative of the kings of England; which never yet has taken from them, nor can be.27
Thus armed with the law, the King proceeded to dispense with statutes as he saw fit. He replaced Protestants and Catholics at high posts in government, particularly at important military garrisons. The army was further enlarged and 13,000 men were stationed at Hounslow Heath, just outside London, in order to hold the city in subjection if necessary. How far James II planned to carry his religious and political program is unknown, but his powerful standing army made many Protestants fearful and uneasy about the future.
With the birth of a son, who would take precedence over the King's Protestant daughters in the succession, fear led to revolution. Leading subjects sent a secret invitation to William
of Orange to come to England in defense of the liberties of the people and his wife's right to the Crown. When William landed with a large Dutch army, the English army and government deserted James II who fled to France. Thus the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was accomplished. James II had believed that his enemies were paralyzed by the Anglican doctrine of nonresistance, but he had so alienated his subjects that he was deposed without being able to put up any resistance himself.
William and Mary were offered the Crown jointly after they accepted the Declaration of Rights on February 13, 1689. The Declaration was later enacted in the form of a statute, known as the Bill of Rights.28 The document is divided into two main parts: 1) a list of allegedly illegal actions of James II, and 2) a declaration of the "ancient rights and liberties" of the realm.
The sections of the first part of the statute that are relevant to the right to bear arms are the allegations that James II
did endeavor to subvert and extirpate the Protestant Religion and the Laws and Liberties of this Kingdom...
5. By raising and keeping a Standing army within this Kingdom in Time of Peace without Consent of Parliament and quartering Soldiers contrary to Law.
6. By causing several good Subjects, being Protestants, to be disarmed at the same Time when Papists were both armed and employed contrary to Law.29
It should be pointed out that the King did not disarm Protestants in any literal sense; the reference is to his desire to abandon the militia in favor of a standing army and his replacement of Protestants by Catholics at important military posts.
27Id. at l199.
28 Bill of Rights, 1 W. & M., sess. 2, c. 2 (1689).
The parallel sections of the declaration of rights part of the statute are:
5. That the raising or keeping a Standing Army within the Kingdom in Time of Peace unless it be with the Consent of Parliament is against Law.
6. That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions, and as allowed by Law.30
The purpose, and meaning of, the right to have arms recognized by these provisions is clear from their historical context. Protestant members of the militia might keep and bear arms in accordance with their militia duties for the defense of the realm. The right was recognized as a
restriction on any future monarch who might wish to emulate James II and abandon the militia system in favor of a standing army without the consent of Parliament. There was obviously no recognition of any personal right to bear arms on the part of subjects generally, since existing law forbade ownership of firearms by anyone except heirs of the nobility and prosperous landowners. In summary, the English Bill of Rights represents the culmination of the centuries old problem of the relationship of sovereignty and armed force. The king could have an army, but only with the express consent of Parliament. The king could not, however, dismantle and disarm the militia. There was no individual right to bear arms; the rights of subjects could be protected only by the political process and the fundamental laws of the land.