Colonial requirements TO bear arms

FPC wrote a delightful amicus brief on Young v. Hawaii about the history of bearing arms in the colonies before and soon after the Constitution was written. Not only was bearing arms normal, but even children as young as 9 years old carried muskets for hunting after class, and churchgoers were often required to carry arms and fined for failure to do so.

Here are some gems:

  • Virginia, 1619:

    All persons whatsoever upon the Sabaoth daye shall frequent divine service both forenoon and afternoon, and all suche as beare armes shall bring their pieces, swordes, poulder and shotte.

  • Massachusetts Bay, 1636:

    no person shall travell above one mile from his dwelling house, except in places wheare other houses are neare together, without some armes, upon paine of 12d. [pence] for every default.

  • Rhode Island, 1639:

    noe man shall go two miles from the Towne unarmed, eyther with Gunn or Sword; and that none shall come to any public Meeting without his weapon.

  • South Carolina: Beginning in 1740, any churchgoing militiaman had to “carry with him a gun or a pair of horse-pistols…with at least six charges of gunpowder and ball.’’
  • Georgia, 1770: “[F]or the security and defence of this province from internal dangers and insurrections," militiamen who attended church unarmed were fined.
  • As a 9- or 10-year-old schoolboy, [John] Adams carried a gun daily so that he could go hunting after class.
  • [Thomas] Jefferson wrote to his fifteen-year-old nephew about the best exercise: “I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprize, and independance to the mind….Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.”
  • Every day, “[w]ell before dawn, [11-year-old] James [Monroe] left for school, carrying his books under one arm with his powder horn under the other and his musket slung across his back.”
  • 1766: Ordinary citizens carried arms. British Captain Thomas Preston—commander of the unpopular Redcoats who had been stationed in Boston—noted the admonition of a trial judge: being “most thoroughly acquainted with the people and their intentions,” the judge stated “that the inhabitants carried weapons concealed under their clothes, and would destroy them [Redcoats] in a moment, if they pleased.”

Thank you for sharing that. Pretty cool!


It was fairly common in a lot of European countries for there to be laws requiring you to be armed and ready to defend your country.

The penalty varied from region to region but usually involved a hefty fine and it made you seem like turd to the rest society.

If your city was attacked and you refused to take up arms then the punishment would probably be even worse.

In Martial Ethic of Early Modern Germany , Tlusty gives a nice breakdown of how the citizens obligation to arm themselves was not just a legal matter but also cultural.
Everybody thinks of swords when you hear about medieval Germany but the fencing competitions were mostly part of the much larger shooting competitions of the time. I dont speak German but I think the fencing competitions were called “fechtschulen” while the shooting events were called “Schützengesellschaften”, both gave citizens a chance to show thier skill at arms and showcase thier ability to protect thier city, it was very much a thing of honor.

For an idea of German martial culture of the Renissance this is worth a read. While it’s mostly on sword related stuff it still paints the picture of an armed society where citizens were not only responsible for thier own saftey but trained and “well regulated”.

I couldnt find much indepth on the shooting events but swords are just sidearms to rifles at this point so its the equivalent to a pistol competition.


Wow, very interesting brief! Thanks for sharing!


Looking back on this, the legislators back then understood that when people are gathered, they present a tempting target. Some of these laws specifically require citizens be armed when attending church or public meetings.

I note that the Buffalo shooter chose a grocery store, and today’s Uvalde shooter an elementary school. I’ve been telling my synagogue safety team that anytime Jews gather, we must have CCWs mixed in.