Demands for a Right to Keep and Bear Arms by State Ratification Conventions

Prof. Eugene Volokh, UCLA Law School

 

              Seven of the original thirteen states demanded certain amendments when they ratified the Constitution.  South Carolina's and Massachusetts' demands were limited to structural provisions, rather than individual rights (except that Massachusetts did demand an analog to the modern Grand Jury Clause).  The remaining five states asked for fairly comprehensive bills of rights.

              All five demands included some sort of a right to keep and bear arms, quoted below with some adjoining demands for context.

              New Hampshire:  . . . Eleventh[:] Congress shall make no Laws touching Religion, or to infringe the rights of Conscience[.]

              Twelfth[:] Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion.

              Virginia:  . . .  Sixteenth, That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their Sentiments; but the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and ought not to be violated.

              Seventeenth, That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated Militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free State.  That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the Community will admit; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the Civil power.

              Eighteenth, [no quartering of soldiers]. . . .

              New York:  . . .  [That religious freedom be guaranteed].

              That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, including the body of the People capable of bearing Arms, is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free State; That the Militia should not be subject to Marital Law except in time of War, Rebellion or Insurrection.  That Standing Armies in time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and ought not to be kept up, excess in Cases of necessity; and that at all times, the Military should be under strict Subordination to the civil Power.

              [That there be no quartering of soldiers]. . . .

              North Carolina:  Almost identical to Virginia demand, but with "the body of the people, trained to arms" instead of "the body of the people trained to arms."

              Rhode Island:  Almost identical to Virginia demand, but with "the body of the people capable of bearing arms" instead of "the body of the people trained to arms," and with a "militia shall not be subject to martial law" proviso as in New York.