Purchase Online
View on Publisher’s Website

A Right to Bear Arms: State and Federal Bills of Rights and Constitutional Guarantees

by Stephen P. Halbrook

Published by Praeger (1989)


The right to keep and bear arms was considered a fundamental, individual right in the original 14 states (the 13 colonies and Vermont) from the pre-Revolutionary period through the ratification of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1791. A Right to Bear Arms is the first book to document the deprivation of this right as a cause of the American Revolution and to trace the protection accorded to this right by the framers of the first State constitutions, which inspired the Second Amendment.

A Right to Bear Arms relies on original sources such as period newspapers, constitutional convention debates, and the writings of the “State framers,” such as Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and lesser-known but intruiging figures from Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, New Hampshire, New York, and elsewhere. Violation of the right to bear arms by the British and in the slave codes is analyzed, as is promotion of the right in the militia laws. Developments in the original states for the past two centuries are traced. This scholarly book is a valuable source to historians, political scientists, the legal profession, and special interest groups.

A Right to Bear Arms was cited as an authority in Mosby v. Devine, 851 A.2d 1031, 1042 (R.I. 2004); and by the Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, “Whether the Second Amendment Secures an Individual Right” (2004).


  • The Inhabitants of Boston Disarmed
  • “The Right to Bear Arms” in the State Declartions of Rights
    • Pennsylvania
    • North Carolina
    • Vermont
    • Massachusetts
  • “A Well-Regulated Militia” in the State Declarations of Rights
    • Virginia
    • Maryland
    • Delaware
    • New Hampshire
  • Constitutions without Bills of Rights
    • New York
    • New Jersey
    • South Carolina
    • Georgia
  • Charters without Constitutions
    • Connecticut
    • Rhode Island
  • Epilogue: State Constitutional Conventions in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries


“A companion piece to Halbrook’s previously published That Every Man Be Armed, which examined the history and philosophy surrounding the adoption of the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, the present work covers the evolution of the right to keep and bear arms from shortly before the American Revolution to the state constitutional conventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. The author, an attorney, attempts to show the long-standing nature of the right to keep and bear arms in the US by examining British attempts to disarm the colonists of Boston from 1768 to 1775 and by reviewing the activities of the various states to protect this right from the late 18th to the late 20th centuries. Halbrook is to be commended for his extensive research and for his use of original sources to document his material. . . . Recommended for general readers and above.”


“In A Right to Bear Arms: State and Federal Bills of Rights and Constitutional Guarantees Fairfax County attorney Stephen P. Halbrook fills a void in scholarship by focusing on early state guarantees. While he ranges into the 19th and 20th centuries, his concentration is on the colonial experience and state provisions predating the adoption of the Bill of Rights. He reminds us just how fundamental the right to keep and bear arms was to the founders. Halbrook is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the history of the Second Amendment. The book is both relatively short and eminently readable. His extensive use of primary sources, particularly that of contemporary newspapers, make this book especially interesting.”