[57] The citizen's common law right to "keep and bear arms" originated in Britain as a means to deter and ultimately, oppose, the usurpation of power by despotic government. Defined through such classic British documents as the 1181 Assize of Arms and the 1689 Bill of Rights, this heritage was formally incorporated into the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in 1789, for precisely the same reasons. It's a cruel irony that the country which initiated such a libertarian ideal should see it wither through simple neglect.

The 1181 Assize of Arms states: "1. Let every holder of a knight's fee have a hauberk, a helmet, a shield and a lance. And let every knight have as many hauberks, helmets, shields and lances, as he has knight's fees in his demise. 2. Also, let every free layman, who holds chattals or rent to the value of 16 marks, have hauberk, a helmet, a shield, and a lance. Also, let every free layman who holds chattals or rent worth 10 marks have an aubergel and a headpiece of iron and a lance.... 4. Moreover, let each and every one of them swear before the feast of St. Hilary he will possess these arms and will bear allegiance to the lord king, Henry, namely the son of empress Maud, and that he will bear these arms in his service according to his order and in allegiance to the lord king and his realm..."

The 1689 Bill of Rights states: "...That the raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace unless it be with the consent of parliament is against law... That the subjects which are protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law..." It should be noted that Catholics, who made up less than 5% of the population at that time, were not denied access to arms for self defence, consequently, the right was essentially universal.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads: "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". During this period of American history, every able-bodied adult male was considered a member of the "militia". The term "well-regulated" is a reference to the militia's marksmanship, not to any regulatory intent on the part of the government. When the Second Amendment was initially being drafted there was much discussion as to whether the "right" should be written down at all, since it was considered such a fundamental human liberty.

It is diffucult to imagine that the authors of these classis documents intended that their hard-won democratic freedoms would be protected by a citizenry armed only with "sports equipment".

For a complete discussion on the origins of the right to keep and bear arms, see Kopel, op. cit.; Stephen P. Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right, (The Independence Institute, 1984); and Joyce Lee Malcolm, To Keep and Bear Arms - The Origins of an Anglo-American Right, (Harvard University Press, 1992).