Bruen Dissent and Gun Control (Part 37)

by | Dec 21, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Supreme Court - Gun RightsJustice Breyer continued: The American Colonies continued the English tradition of regulating public carriage on this side of the Atlantic. In 1686, the colony of East New Jersey passed a law providing that “no person or persons . . . shall presume privately to wear any pocket pistol, skeines, stilladers, daggers or dirks, or other unusual or unlawful weapons within this Province.” An Act Against Wearing Swords, &c., ch. 9, in Grants, Concessions, and Original Constitutions of the Province of New Jersey 290 (2d ed. 1881).

East New Jersey also specifically prohibited “planter[s]” from “rid[ing] or go[ing] armed with sword, pistol, or dagger.” Ibid. Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire followed suit in 1692 and 1771, respectively, enacting laws that, like the Statute of Northampton, provided that those who went “armed Offensively” could be punished. An Act for the Punishing of Criminal Offenders, 1692 Mass. Acts and Laws no. 6, pp. 11–12; An Act for the Punishing of Criminal Offenders, 1771 N. H. Acts and Laws ch. 6, §5, p. 17. It is true, as the Court points out, that these laws were only enacted in three colonies. Ante, at 37. But that does not mean that they may be dismissed as outliers. They were successors to several centuries of comparable laws in England, see supra, at 34–40, and predecessors to numerous similar (in some cases, materially identical) laws enacted by the States after the founding, see infra, at 41–42.

And while it may be true that these laws applied only to “dangerous and unusual weapons,” see ante, at 38 (majority opinion), that category almost certainly included guns, see Charles, 60 Clev. St. L. Rev., at 34, n. 181 (listing 18th century sources defining “‘offensive weapons’” to include “‘Fire Arms’” and “‘Guns’”); State v. Huntly, 25 N. C. 418, 422 (1843) (per curiam) (“A gun is an ‘unusual weapon,’ wherewith to be armed and clad”).

A dirk is a dagger with a long blade. It was popular in Scotland during colonial times. The term still appears under the prohibited weapons section of New Jersey’s criminal Code.