Early Historical Documents

1. Magna Carta – 1215

“Magna Carta was issued in June 1215 and was the first document to put into writing the principle that the king and his government was not above the law. It sought to prevent the king from exploiting his power, and placed limits of royal authority by establishing law as a power in itself.”1

There is no mention of guns and only one mention of arms in the Magna Carta. That mention is: “As soon as peace is restored, we will remove from the kingdom all the foreign knights, bowmen, their attendants, and the mercenaries that have come to it, to its harm, with horses and arms.”

2. Laws Enacted by the First General Assembly of Virginia – 1619

“In 1618 the council in London instructed the Virginia governor to initiate the first representative assembly in the colonies. It was felt that the colonists needed to have some voice in local affairs if order and economic prosperity were to be reestablished in the faltering colony. … [This] document was passed by the legislature during its initial six-year official existence.”2

There is no mention of guns and two mentions of arms in the Laws Enacted by the First General Assembly of Virginia. The mentions are in sections 22 and 36: “22. That no man do sell or give any Indians any piece, shot, or powder, or any other arms offensive or defensive, upon pain of being held a traitor to the colony and of being hanged as soon as the fact is proved, without all redemption.” and “36. All persons whatsoever, upon Sabbath days, shall frequent divine service and sermons both forenoon and afternoon and all such as bear arms shall bring their pieces, swords, powder and shot. And every one that shall transgress this law shall forfeit three shillings a time to the use of the church, all lawful and necessary impediments excepted. But if a servant in this case shall willfully neglect his master’s command he shall suffer bodily punishment.”

3. Mayflower Compact – 1620

“Mayflower Compact, document signed on the English ship Mayflower on November 21 [November 11, Old Style], 1620, prior to its landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was the first framework of government written and enacted in the territory that is now the United States of America.”3

There are no mentions of arms or guns in the Mayflower Compact, 1620.

4. English Bill of Rights – 1689

“The English Bill of Rights was an act signed into law in 1689 by William III and Mary II, who became co-rulers in England after the overthrow of King James II. The bill outlined specific constitutional and civil rights and ultimately gave Parliament power over the monarchy. Many experts regard the English Bill of Rights as the primary law that set the stage for a constitutional monarchy in England. It’s also credited as being an inspiration for the U.S. Bill of Rights.”4

There is no mention of guns and only one mention of arms in the English Bill of Rights. That mention is: “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law…”

5. Declaration of Independence – 1776

“By issuing the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the 13 American colonies severed their political connections to Great Britain. The Declaration summarized the colonists’ motivations for seeking independence. By declaring themselves an independent nation, the American colonists were able to confirm an official alliance with the Government of France and obtain French assistance in the war against Great Britain.”5

There is no mention of guns, and only one mention of arms in the Declaration of Independence. That mention is: “He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.”

6. Articles of Confederation – 1781

“The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak central government, leaving most of the power with the state governments.”6

There is no mention of guns and only one mention of arms in the Articles of Confederation. That mention is: “…but every State shall always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of filed pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.”

7. US Constitution – 1789

“The Constitution of the United States established America’s national government and fundamental laws, and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens.”7

There are no mentions of arms or guns in the US Constitution, 1789.

8. Bill of Rights – 1791

“The Bill of Rights is the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. It spells out Americans’ rights in relation to their government. It guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual—like freedom of speech, press, and religion. It sets rules for due process of law and reserves all powers not delegated to the Federal Government to the people or the States.”8

There is no mention of guns and only one mention of arms and that is in the Second Amendment. That mention is: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”


Footnotes:

1. UK Parliament website, “Magna Carta,” parliament.uk, accessed November 18, 2021

2. Donald S. Lutz, ed., Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History, 1998

3. Britannica.com, “Mayflower Compact, North America [1620],” britannica.com, accessed November 18, 2021

4. History.com, “English Bill of Rights,” history.com, accessed November 18, 2021

5. Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute, United States Department of State, “The Declaration of Independence, 1776,” history.state.gov, accessed November 18, 2021

6. Library of Congress website, “Articles of Confederation: Primary Documents in American History,” loc.gov, accessed November 18, 2021

7. History.com, “Constitution,” history.com, accessed November 18, 2021

8. The US National Archives and Records Administration, “The Bill of Rights: What Does it Say?” archives.gov, accessed November 20, 2021