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Lord Blackstone on firearm rights

Letter To The Editor, New Brunswick Telegraph Journal (07/06/99)

Eldon Warmael

Blackstone on Arms for Self-Defence.

"The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute 1 W.& M. st. 2, c.2, and it is indeed a public allowance under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression. In these several articles consist the rights, or, as they are frequently termed, the liberties of Englishmen: liberties, more generally talked of than thoroughly understood; and yet highly necessary to be perfectly known and considered by every man of rank or property, lest his ignorance of the points whereon they are founded should hurry him into faction and licentiousness on the one hand, or a pusillanimous indifference and criminal submission on the other. And we have seen that these rights consist, primarily, in the free enjoyment of personal security, of personal liberty, and of private property. So long as these remain inviolate, the subject is perfectly free; for every species of compulsive tyranny and oppression must act in opposition to one or other of these rights, having no other object upon which it can possibly be employed. To preserve these from violation, it is necessary that the constitution of parliament be supported in full vigour; and limits, certainly known, be set to the royal prerogative.

And lastly, to vindicate these rights, when actually violated or attacked, the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next, to the right of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances; and, lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.

And all these rights and liberties it is our birthright to enjoy entire; unless where the laws of our country have laid them under necessary restraints - restraints in themselves so gentle and moderate, as will appear upon further enquiry, that no man of sense or probity would wish to see them slackened. For all of us have it in our choice to do everything that a good man would desire to do; and are restrained from nothing, but what would be pernicious either to ourselves or our fellow-citizens."

(This extract is taken from pages 143 and 144 of the first volume of four) of the 21st edition of Sir William Blackstone's book 'Commentaries on the Laws of England' dated 1884 in which it Is stated that it derives from the edition of 1783 with the author's last corrections. It is commonly to be found in law libraries and in the larger reference libraries.)