After the close of the Reconstruction era, and until the end of World War I, decisions about the meaning of the right to bear arms began to fall into a more consistent pattern, perhaps because there were now a great many precedents from which to choose, once the justices had decided whether to uphold or overturn a state law. Signs of a certain ambiguity as to whether such laws should apply to everyone, or just to certain classes of people, were still apparent.
Our first West Virginia decision, is another example of the sort of weapons law passed by Texas in 1871, with enough loopholes to allow judges and juries to almost arbitrarily convict or free those accused of violating the law. In State v. Workman ( 1891), Erastus Workman was convicted of violating West Virginia's weapons law, which prohibited carrying "any revolver or other pistol, dirk, bowieknife, razor, slung-shot, billy, metallic or other false brass knuckles, or any other dangerous or deadly weapon of like kind or character," but with the interesting exception that,
if upon the trial. . . the defendant shall prove to the satisfaction of the jury that he is a quiet and peaceable citizen, of good character and standing in the community in which he lives, and at the time he was found with such pistol, dirk, razor, or bowie-knife. . . he had good cause to believe, and did believe, that he was, in danger of death or great bodily harm at the hands of another person, and that he was, in good faith, carrying such weapon for self-defense and for no other purpose, the jury shall find him not guilty.1
The jury was thus given a way to find "the right sort" of person innocent if the defendant successfully proved his good character and motives. In Workman's case, he successfully demonstrated that his life was being threatened by calling a number of witnesses--including the wife of the man threatening his life--but evidently neglected to provide evidence to the jury that he was a "quiet and peaceable citizen, of good character and standing in the community."
Workman appealed on the basis that the requirement to prove oneself of good character was a violation of the "privileges and immunities" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, since he was, in essence, required to prove himself of good character, or be convicted,2 and also that the law in question violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The West Virginia Supreme Court held that:____________________