Early in America’s history, firearms laws were everywhere

By | August 12, 2023

Robert J. Spitzer writes:

In the summer of 1619, the leaders of the fledgling Jamestown colony came together as the first general assembly to enact “just Laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting.” Consisting of the governor, Sir George Yeardley; his four councillors; and 22 elected “burgesses,” or representatives, the group approved more than 30 measures. Among them was the nation’s first gun law:

That no man do sell or give any Indians any piece, shot, or powder, or any other arms offensive or defensive, upon pain of being held a traitor to the colony and of being hanged as soon as the fact is proved, without all redemption.

After that early example of gun control came many more laws placing restrictions on the ownership and use of firearms. If guns have always been part of American society, so have gun laws.

This fact might come as a surprise to some gun-rights advocates, who seem to believe that America’s past was one of unregulated gun ownership. That view received a big assist in 2022, when the Supreme Court declared in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen that the constitutionality of modern gun laws depends on whether they are “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” In other words, the constitutional standard for any modern gun law boils down to whether you can find a good precedent for it back in the 1700s or 1800s.

The advocates’ assumption is that such precedents are few and far between, but thanks to the work of researchers and the digitization of archival material, thousands of old gun laws, of every imaginable variety, are now available for reference. Far from being exceptional in American history, gun-control regulations are the default. If Bruen was designed to nullify the constitutional basis for many gun laws, it ought to fail. [Continue reading…]

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