The right to carry a bowie-knife for lawful defense is secured, and must be admitted. It is an exceeding destructive weapon. It is difficult to defend against it, by any degree of bravery, or any amount of skill. The gun or pistol may miss its aim, and when discharged, its dangerous character is lost, or diminished at least. The sword may be parried. With these weapons men fight for the sake of the combat, to satisfy the laws of honor, not necessarily with the intention to kill, or with a certainty of killing, when the intention exists. The bowie-knife differs from these in its device and design; it is the instrument of almost certain death. He who carries such a weapon, for lawful defense, as he may, makes himself more dangerous to the rights of others, considering the frailties of human nature, than if he carried a less dangerous weapon. Now, is the legislature powerless to protect the rights of others thus the more endangered, by superinducing caution against yielding to such frailties? May the state not say, through its law, to the citizen, “this right which you exercise, is very liable to be dangerous to the rights of others, you must school your mind to forbear the abuse of your right, by yielding to sudden passion; to secure this necessary schooling of your mind, an increased penalty must be affixed to the abuse of this right, so dangerous to others.”
Texas Appeals Court Judge
John Cockrum v. The State Page 402
[Via The legal history of bans on firearms and Bowie knives before 1900 by David Kopel.
I found this take on the use of large knives versus guns very interesting. There are several facets to this, but the following is the most intriguing. Those who would restrict access to guns would increase the use of weapons the courts have found to be more deadly.—Joe]
I find it fascinating that he makes it out to be the “assault weapon of hot rage mass puppy killing” of the day, more than swords, pistols, or anything else. Separate, isolate, take down, move on to the next new “most dangerous weapon.” The specifics may change, but the tactics remain the same. People come and go, but there will always be scummy lawyers and judges trying to mess with the people.
I wonder, your honor, in matters of self defense do YOU purposefully handicap yourself to be ‘sporting’ to the assailant bent on your life and loves? Or do you reach for the best possible tool and every advantage to hand? And that being so, by what imagined moral outrage do you protest my quest for the same level of violence against those who threaten me?
I think the assertion that pistols and swords are more intended for matters of honor, where there is not necessarily an “intention or certainty of killing.” Sounds like gunplay between gangs and drivebys in urban areas to me – killing somebody is just collateral damage, the intention is to cap off rounds to show who’s running the neighborhood. If they really wanted to kill somebody, the hoodrats would be charging in like infantry with Bowie knives!
I do appreciate the angle of his argument: It is certainly your right to carry such a thing, but it is your obligation to control it, and the only way the rest of us have to compel that obligation is to assign greater punishments to the abuse of that right.
Now, I’m of a mind that murder is murder regardless of instrumentality. But self-defense (including defense of others) is not murder, as it is the prevention of the loss of innocent life, even if that results in the loss of the malevolent life. Frankly, on the hip of a peaceful man, a Bowie knife is more likely to keep the peace than breech the peace, because (to use the argument from the quote) if the malevolent life doesn’t strike a decisive blow in their first hit, the wounded innocent life is going to end them with their unavoidable-death-blade and they’ll go meet St Peter unshriven. Thus, the possibility of immediate justice being done upon them deters the malevolent.
Is a man on the street with an openly carried Bowie knife a innocent man of peace or a malevolent man of violence? No mortal can know what is truly in that man’s heart. For the sake of the peaceful men, we dare not disarm them, as they are the only immediate defense against the malevolent.
If we disarm the peaceful man in his everyday life, we leave him with no deterrence and no defense against the malevolent. The government may eventually come along to draw the chalk outline, collect the witnesses’ statements, marshal their own rough men and bring the malevolent to the courthouse to face the “increased penalty” the author proposes, but that’s cold comfort to his weeping family.
A man with peace in his heart needs no law to tell him not to turn his hand to violence, because he wasn’t inclined to do so.
A man with violence in his heart but the law in his mind doesn’t need two separate laws to tell him to refrain from violence; one will do.
A man with neither peace in his heart nor law in his mind will not respect a thousand laws forbidding violence in all its finely sliced variations. He only fears the speed, infallibility and heft of the gavel of law. To put it another way, he is relying on the proven sloth, error and absence of righteous justice of the legal bureaucracy.
As has already been mentioned. Your Honor, We already have laws against murder and assault with a deadly weapon. And a host of punishments for the improper use of any such arm.
To provide such an act as to ban weapons. Is to make accusations with no evidence of a crime. Should we ban judges because they might and have put innocent people in jail? Irrespective of their deterrence and utility?
Our forefathers wisely saw this day aforehand and provided against it in the form of the 2nd. amendment.
Any such attempts to bans are an infringe and could only be found constitutionally offensive. As such arguments have for human history been the refuge of scoundrels and tyrants. And only the ignorant and debased would propose them.
And any that pass or enforce such is themself a criminal!
I find it fascinating that the judges of that era acknowledge their opinion that this particular type of knife is exceedingly destructive, dangerous, and deadly when used as a weapon, but that the people nevertheless have the right to own and carry them.
That’s a complete reversal from latter-day judges who found that a weapon’s perceived destructiveness and lethality could be factored in to determine its legality (and then the next-most-destructive could be likewise banned, and then the next, and the next…).
I disagree with his assertion that the bowie knife is an “instrument of almost certain death”, though I have pointed out before that edged weapons are in many ways better-suited for mass-killings than firearms (see: school stabbings in China), particularly because unlike guns they are MUCH quieter and don’t malfunction or run out of ammunition.
> Those who would restrict access to guns would increase the use of weapons the courts have found to be more deadly.
Not just the courts–I’ve often pointed out according to NCVS data, the victim of an armed assault is six times more likely to report that they were seriously injured during the commission of the crime if the assailant is armed with a knife or club than if they are faced with assault by firearm.
The reports don’t speculate on why… Maybe there’s less victim resistance. Maybe assailant is reluctant to draw attention. Maybe the firearm is a replica or non-functional. Maybe survivorship bias. Maybe combinations of all of these.
But it’s clear banning guns means no reduction in injury, just many more stabbings and clubbings.
I’ve seen studies from Britain that knife attacks cause more damage and longer hospitalizations than shootings do, due to more physical damage.
I suspect that beatings with clubs, tire irons, etc would be similar – the trauma is not as bad in a single point but there is overall much more of it spread over a larger area.
IIRC, they only looked at those who made it to the hospital, not all attacks, so it didn’t address how often the victim died.