Seemingly unsubstantiated allegations of bans on Catholics,
and propertyless owning guns [related to Arming America]
VOLOKH at mail.law.ucla.edu
Wed Jan 31 11:48:32 PST 2001
I ran across a couple more seemingly unsubstantiated claims of
colonial and post-Revolutionary gun bans in Arming America. I thought I'd
alert the list about them, just in case someone either (1) has some
substantiation that was missing from the sources, or (2) would otherwise
have relied on the claims, but would now be aware that they seem to be
(1) On p. 75, Arming America asserts that colonial
legislatures "den[ied] the right to own guns to . . . propertyless whites."
The cite is to Prof. Bellesiles' own "Gun Laws in Early America: The
Regulation of Firearms Ownership, 1607-1794," 16 Law and History Review
567-89 (1994). Pages 567-89 are the entire article, but the only reference
I could find in the article to the colonial legislatures disarming
propertyless whites is the disarmament of *indentured servants*, quite a
different category, with a different sort of justification.
So while the claim that the colonies denied the right to own
guns to indentured servants seems to be accurate, the claim that they
"den[ied] the right to own guns to . . . propertyless whites" appears to be
(2) On p. 218, Arming America states that "The legislation
that resulted [after the enactment of the Second Amendment] uniformly sought
to regulate the militia, starting with the first national militia act of
1792, legislatures in every state further revealed their intentions [that
the right be collective, I think, or at least not universal - EV] in the
limitations they imposed on gun ownership, whether in denying that right to
blacks, Catholics, Indians, or the foreign born." The cite is to the
Militia Act of 1792 and the 1815 Militia Laws compendium -- which just
support the mention of the Militia Act earlier in the sentence -- and then
again to the entirety of Prof. Bellesiles' Law & Hist Rev article.
The trouble is that the Law & Hist Rev article seems to say
nothing about the state legislatures' barring gun ownership by Catholics or
the foreign born. It does say that in 1756 the Maryland *colonial*
legislature took aggressive steps to disarm legislatures, but it says
nothing about any *state* legislatures doing this. And the only reference
to any legislature, colonial or state, disarming the foreign-born is just a
bald assertion at p. 589.
Thus, the claim that states "imposed [limitations] on gun
ownership . . . in denying that right to . . . Catholics . . . or the
foreign born" appears to be unsubstantiated.
Again, if anyone has any further evidence to support these claims, I
would love to hear it. Also, and apologies for the repetition, if only the
Law & Hist Rev article and the Arming America book were better cite-checked,
all this could have been avoided . . . .
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