- Paperback: 232 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 1, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674893077
- ISBN-13: 978-0674893078
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right
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Joyce Malcolm's book reminds us forcibly that arguments for gun ownership were, until quite recently, respectable and persuasive, and that gun control and peaceable behaviour appear to be unrelated phenomena. (David Wootton London Review of Books)
A work of genuine excellence, as persuasive in its argument as it is unsettling in its implications...Malcolm's prose is both vigorous and elegant, and occasionally even witty, a virtue rarely to be found in a constitutional treatise. The book should generate a healthy debate about the future of gun control in America. (Douglas R. Egerton American Historical Review)
A wide audience, including social scientists, historians, lawyers, and anyone interested in the gun-ownership debate, should welcome this concise, well-written history. (Allan D. Olmsted Contemporary Sociology)
[Malcolm] provides a skillful analysis of how the Englishmen's duty to bear arms was transformed into a right to bear arms. (Robert E. Shalhope Journal of American History)
From the Back Cover
Joyce Malcolm illuminates the historical facts underlying the current passionate debate about gun-related violence, the Brady Bill, the NRA, revealing the original meaning and intentions behind the individual right to bear arms. Few on either side of the Atlantic realize that this extraordinary, controversial, and least understood liberty was a direct legacy of English law. This book explains how the Englishmen's hazardous duty evolved into a right, and how it was transferred to America and transformed into the Second Amendment.
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While the book makes reference to earlier laws such as the Magna Carta, the focus for the book is the Seventeenth Century, a time of religious wars and persecution throughout Europe. Malcolm shows us how during the Restoration, the Catholic kings Charles II and James II sought to disarm Protestants (the vast majority of the population) and impose a Catholic theocracy upon the English. The Restoration kings began this effort through gun control and arms confiscation. It was in response to this that the English finally codified their duty to own firearms as a right of the individual.
Unlike the Continental powers, which primarily used paid mercenary armies, England based her national defense strategy upon the whole of the populace being armed and subject to call-up for national service in time of war. This was less costly to the government and provided a huge base of trained manpower to draw soldiers from when needed. Englishmen were required by the government to own and be proficient with a firearm. However, the Crown and the noble class recognized unrestricted firearm ownership was a direct threat to them as well, so what weapons you could own and how many you could own were decided by how wealthy you were. Those deemed "of quality" (meaning nobility and wealthy landowners) could own firearms without restrictions, while the poor were limited to a single firearm that had to be kept at home. This was often accomplished through the passage of various game and hunting laws aimed at ensuring hunting as the right and privilege of the wealthy.
There was a second duty of private English citizens, and that was law enforcement. At the time, there was no professional police force, simply a county or district sheriff who had to rely upon the citizens for assistance when needed. The armed citizens would form a posse and ride out with the sheriff to catch the evil doers. Another part of a citizen's law enforcement duty was to perform night watch at the town gate. Highway bandits were also a common problem in the English countryside, and many laws required travelers to carry their weapons with them when they left town.
To their dismay, the English nobility discovered that when the common citizens are the ones enforcing the laws passed against them, the laws will not be enforced.
Joyce helps us to see that this mindset of an armed citizenry came to the American Colonies and was firmly entrenched by the hazardous circumstances the colonists found themselves facing in the New World.
One fault I found was late in the book, where Malcolm states the National Guard is the "militia" mentioned in the Second Amendment. This is incorrect, and I am surprised that one who has so thoroughly researched her subject would have allowed this mistake to slip past her.
The only way for a tyrant to secure his or her power is to disarm all who would oppose their agenda. The concept of an armed citizenry has a long history in England, and I suspect this is why England has not suffered a significant tyranny, as so many other European powers have. English subjects, until recent times, have always been armed and ready to face the threats to their way of life, whether it be bandits, foreign powers, or their own rulers.