How the British Gun Control Program Precipitated the American Revolution

I just finished reading David Kopel’s paper How the British Gun Control Program Precipitated the American Revolution. I found it fascinating. It was like an exciting short story but with lots of footnotes.

There is a lot of great material in it and my QOTD for tomorrow will come from it.

What follow are some of the highlights.

In 1777 when British victory seemed likely Colonial Undersecretary William Knox drafted a plan entitled “What Is Fit to Be Done with America?” It included the following:

The Militia Laws should be repealed and none suffered to be re-enacted, & the Arms of all the People should be taken away, . . . nor should any Foundery or manufactuary of Arms, Gunpowder, or Warlike Stores, be ever suffered in America, nor should any Gunpowder, Lead, Arms or Ordnance be imported into it without Licence . . . .

Imagine how different things would be today had the British won. Kopel convincingly presents the case (Patrick Henry’s speech of March 23, 1775 is just a hint) that the American citizens knew this was coming and was a significant, if not major, motivation for rebellion.

I especially like this (page 32):

The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits the import of any firearm which is not deemed “sporting” by federal regulators. That import ban seems difficult to justify based on the historical record of 1774-76, or on District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, both of which hold that, while sporting uses such as hunting are part of the Second Amendment, the “core” and “central component” of the Second Amendment is self-defense.

And this (page 32):

Laws which aim to disarm the public at large are precisely what turned a political argument into the American Revolution. Sometimes, legislative history will frankly reveal that the purpose of an anti-gun law was to discourage gun ownership in general, or that the law was based on hostility to gun ownership. This is the case for New York City’s pistol licensing fees. Everywhere in New York State, the fee for the issuance or renewal of a handgun permit is $10 (plus a separate $95 fee for a fingerprint check for first-time applications). But in New York City, the fee is over $340, payable every three years. The explicitly stated purpose of allowing the New York City government to charge extra fees was to discourage handgun ownership in the City.

In Alameda County, California, the five-person County Board of Supervisors banned gun shows on county property at the behest of a Supervisor who complained that her previous efforts to ban gun shows had “gotten the run around from spineless people hiding behind the constitution.” She explained that the County should not “provide a place for people to display guns for worship as deities for the collectors who treat them as icons of patriotism.” Nevertheless, the Ninth Circuit upheld the ban because the other supervisors who voted for the ordinance might have had legitimate motives.

He concludes with:

Gun ownership simpliciter ought never to be a pretext for government violence. The Americans in 1775 fought a war because the king did not agree. Americans of the 21st century should not squander the heritage of constitutional liberty bequeathed by the Patriots.


4 thoughts on “How the British Gun Control Program Precipitated the American Revolution

  1. “…spineless people hiding behind the constitution.”

    Just try to wrap your mind around the implications of this being said in the United States of America at all, then contemplate the implications of this being said by a so-called public servant. It doesn’t refer to the constitution as a whole, necessarily, but speficically to the Bill of Rights. Spineless people “hiding behind the Bill of Rights”.

    If you have a spine, if you have any courage, if you have any guts, you will subvert the rights of The People. That is what it means. The person saying it has already made the mental leap to becoming an anti-American revolutionary and is admonishing all those who haven’t made the same leap. A soldier for the cause, of what we don’t know exactly but it is certainly anti liberty.

    In a properly functioning republic, that single phrase would be grounds for immediate dismissal, and for prohibition from serving ever again in any public position.

  2. @Lyle, Yeah. I know. Pretty inflammatory.

    I considered commenting on it but decided it would distract from the larger point of the British arms control policy being a major factor in the revolution. But I did want it written down here where I and others could find it again easily.

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