The Greek philosopher Aristotle thought that bearing arms was necessary for true citizenship and participation in the political system (in Politics).
Imperial Chancellor Kung-Sun petitioned the Emperor Han to take the people’s arms from them. The Emperor replied:
“Your subject has heard that when the ancients made the five kinds of weapons, it was not for the purpose of killing each other, but to prevent tyranny and to punish evil. When people lived in peace, these weapons were to be prepared against emergencies and to kill fierce animals. If there were military affairs, then the weapons were used to set up defenses and form battle arrays…”
The petition to disarm the people was turned down, stressing the right of the individual to bear arms for the common protection of society and the individual.
The Roman politician Cicero supported bearing arms for self-defense of the individual and for public defense against tyranny (in De Officiis).
King Alfred of Saxon England’s laws give every man the right to keep and bear arms, but prohibits murder and other crimes.
England’s King Cnut’s laws recognize the right to keep and bear arms, the right to self-defense, and the right to hunt on one’s own land.
In his Assize of Arms, King Henry II gives “every knight and freeman” the right to have weapons and armor.
King John tries to disarm both nobles and commoners, but the barons force him to recognize the right to bear arms as part of the Magna Carta, which later becomes the model for the American colonists in their struggle against the English monarchy.
Under Henry II, the arming of the citizens is extended to serfs. An “arming of the whole people” rather than a large standing army gradually becomes the basis for England’s defense.
Gunpowder, already in use in China, is introduced into Europe. At first it is used primarily in crude siege cannons that can blow holes in castle walls, enforcing the power of the monarch over the nobles.
In response to rowdiness by knights and others, Edward III issues the Statute of Northampton which prohibits “persons great or small” from carrying weapons in public, although it allows for defense of the home. The law is widely disobeyed, and, in practice, the courts applied it only to those who used arms to “terrify the good people of the land.” In other words, they only applied it against criminals – law abiding citizens maintained the right to keep and bear arms.
Portable firearms such as the arquebus become more common on the battlefield. At first the unwieldy guns are fired from tripod-like supporters, but versions that can be fired from the shoulder soon appear.
King Henry VIII orders that all fathers should provide each son, at the age of seven, with a bow and two shafts and to see to it that the child knew how to use them. Failure to do this resulted in a stiff fine which underlined the Crown’s seriousness in this matter.
Permanent British settlement in America begins. The colonists use firearms daily for hunting as well as in ongoing conflicts with Native Americans and French colonists.
Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England listed in the first chapter his list of rights. After listing the Rights, he stated: “In vain would these rights be declared, ascertained, and protected by the dead letter of the laws, if the constitution had provided no other method to secure their actual enjoyment.” As an added protection, he explained, there were “auxiliary rights.” The fifth and last auxiliary right, meant to protect all the others “is that of having arms for their defense. . . . It is, indeed, a publick allowance under due restrictions, of the natural rights of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”
A seventeenth-century guidebook for justices of the peace explained: “If Thieves shall come to a Man’s House, to rob or murder him, he may lawfully assemble company to defend his House by force; and if he or any of his company shall kill any of them in defence of Himself, his Family, his Goods or House, This is no Felony, neither shall they forfeit anything therefore.”
King Charles II restricts guns and bows to large landowners (who make up the nobility), thus disarming the emerging middle class and the poor. At its time, this was the most restrictive English weapons control law ever passed.
In his work Two Treatises on Government, philosopher John Locke maintains the “natural” right of citizens to have arms for their individual and collective defense.
In the bloodless “Glorious Revolution,” William and Mary defeat King James II, abolish the standing army, and restore – to Protestants only – the right to keep and bear arms.
The word Bill of Rights (or Declaration of Rights) is an act of the Parliament of England, whose formal name is An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown. The Bill of Rights of the United Kingdom is largely a statement of certain rights to which citizens and permanent residents of a constitutional monarchy were thought to be entitled in the late 17th century, asserting subjects' right to petition the monarch, as well as to bear arms in defence. The British Bill of Rights includes a condemnation of previous kings for disarming the people and specifies that henceforth “The subjects which are Protestant may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and allowed by law.”
Philosopher Algernon Sidney in his book Discourses Concerning Government states that “the body of the People is the Public defense, and every man is armed and disciplines.” American colonists soon put the idea in practice in the form of local militias.
Two new kinds of long guns come into use: The smoothbore musket has a short range and can be fired about four times a minute by well-trained soldiers. The rifle with its grooved barrel takes longer to load but has greater range and accuracy.
In the British court case of Rex v. Gardner, the judge holds that the game laws did not forbid a person from mere possession of a gun for purposes of self-defense. Several later cases have similar verdicts.
A combination of British and colonial volunteer forces defeat the French in the French and Indian War. Actually the colonists took primary responsibility for their own defense.
British soldiers fire on unarmed Americans in Boston, leading to an up-surge of revolutionary sentiment. The British respond by beginning to raid colonial homes and gatherings to seize guns and ammunition.
The American War of Independence is ignited when British troops under General Gage attempt to seize guns and ammunition from colonists at Lexington and Concord. Although faced down initially by the trained British troops, the American Minutemen militia begins a relentless fire, aided by accurate long-range rifles.
In addition to declaring independence, the various states write constitutions that include bills of rights. In general, they refer to the danger of standing armies, the reliance on a well-regulated militia, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
British colonial undersecretary William Knox presents a proposal concerning what to do with the colonies when they were subjugated and returned to British control. His proposals include the repeal of the militia laws, the confiscation of all arms held by the people, and the prohibition of the manufacture or importation of guns or powder in America.
The Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution is approved. It includes the Second Amendment, which guarantees “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In the Bill of Rights, the individual retained his basic natural rights; rights deemed unalienable, coming not from Society (or the State as the political manifestation of Society); but bestowed by the Almighty as inherent to the very nature of man.
In the Kentucky case of Bliss v. Commonwealth, the court holds that the state constitution prohibits any interference with the right to keep and bear arms, even concealed weapons.
Samuel Colt’s revolver is patented. Because it can fire six shots without reloading, it represents a formidable increase in firepower for close combat and helps the settlers repel Indian raids.
Georgia passes the first ban on handguns. It is later overturned in 1846 in Nunn v. State as a violation of the Second Amendment.
The Winchester repeating rifle lets its user fire up to 15 shots by working a lever every few seconds. It will become known as the gun that won the West.
The Fourteenth Amendment, the Freedman’s Bureau Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 all include the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms among the rights that the states are prohibited from taking from any citizen.