A Right to Bear Arms: State and Federal Bills of Rights and Constitutional Guarantees

By Stephen P. Halbrook | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE:
State Constitutional Conventions in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Rights such as press, assembly, and arms were considered fundamental in the states during the period from the Revolution through the adoption of the federal Bill of Rights. Only some of the states saw a need for a declaration of rights to be included in the state constitutions during that period. In the two centuries that have followed, most of the original states have adopted bills of rights for the first time or have strengthened protected rights.

Bill-of-rights provisions which explicitly or implicitly guarantee the right to keep and bear arms have been adopted in three epochs of American history. First, the antebellum period saw the adoption of the first bills of rights in several Northern states. Second, during Reconstruction, the Southern states amended their constitutions to expand protected rights, while other states hesitated to alter their bills of rights on the arms issue. Third, no further changes were made for almost a century until restrictive firearms legislation beginning in 1968 led to new arms guarantees. The following traces these developments.


TRIUMPH OF THE WRITTEN BILL OF RIGHTS: THE ANTEBELLUM PERIOD

Connecticut, 1818 . Connecticut adopted its first constitution in 1818, and its bill of rights included the following: "Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the State." 1 The scant records which remain do not indicate that this right was controversial, 2 unlike

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