Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights

By Glenn H. Utter | Go to book overview

CHRONOLOGY
1775 Colonial militia, called the minutemen, defend a store of arms in Lexington,
Massachusetts, against an attempt by British troops under the command of
General Thomas Gage to confiscate weapons. The minutemen take on a repu-
tation far beyond their contribution to the fight for independence, becoming a
crucial ingredient in many Americans' positive attitudes toward firearms.
1789 James Madison fulfills a promise to submit 12 constitutional amendments in the
first session of the new House of Representatives; the amendments are to con-
stitute a Bill of Rights to the recently adopted U.S. Constitution. Although ini-
tially holding that a Bill of Rights is unnecessary, Madison agrees to support the
idea to attain ratification of the Constitution. One of Madison's proposed amend-
ments originally reads: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not
be infringed; a well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country:
but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to ren-
der military service in person." The amendment is revised to exclude a religious
exemption and is submitted to the states as: "A well regulated Militia, being
necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear
Arms, shall not be infringed." This Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitu-
tion is ratified on December 15, 1791.
1792 Congress passes the Militia Act, which establishes an organized militia and an
enrolled militia composed of all free white males, who were expected to provide
their own muskets, firelocks, and ammunition. The act is never truly imple-
mented by the states.
1846 In Nunn v. State, the Supreme Court of Georgia overrules a lower court deci-
sion convicting Hawkins Nunn of carrying a pistol in violation of an 1837 state
statute. The court finds that both the U.S. and Georgia state constitutions guar-
antee the right to keep and bear arms and traces the historical roots of the right,
calling it "one of the fundamental principles, upon which rests the great fabric
of civil liberty, reared by the fathers of the Revolution and of the country."
1857 The U.S. Supreme Court, in Scott v. Sanford, rules that the Bill of Rights does
not apply to blacks. Chief Justice Roger Taney argues that if blacks were given
full citizen status with free white men, they would have the right of free speech
and the right "to keep and carry arms wherever they went."

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