The Sale Of Pistols.
(From the Archives of the New York Times)Commenting, in our issue of Saturday. on the murder of Sullivan by Gill, we briefly suggested, as we have frequently done before, the propriety of including pistols in the law against carrying concealed weapons. It is certainly an anomaly that the weapon with which more than half the homicides and deadly assaults in this City are perpetrated should be exempted from the operations of a provision expressly intended to lessen the chances by limiting the facilities of murder. It is of no use to say that men shall not carry knives or slung-shots, if you permit them to carry indiscriminately and freely a weapon more deadly, and, at the same time, more popular, than either knife or slung-shot. Yet it would be useless to deny the existence of a general feeling in the commmunity that a law against carrying pistols would be a virtual disarmament of the law-abiding citizen, who would obey the statute, for the benefit of the lawless, who would persistently disregard it. That opinion was even expressed by a Magistrate on the bench, and is, no doubt, largely shared by the better portion of the community. Theoretically, the citizen has no occasion for weapons of self-defense. Practically we all know he has, and must at times, in any city however well governed and well policed.The objection that such a law as that suggested would be disregarded by the very persons whom it was chiefly designed to reach, is not, of course, logically speaking, a valid objection. The disorderly and dangerous classes defy all laws, and their opposition is not only to be expected, but constitutes one of the chief necessities for making laws at all. Nevertheless, the objection will have weight with many, and may tend to the continuance of a practice which all good men must deprecate, if they do not condemn. The way to meet this argument has already been indicated in these columns. If it is impracticable to forbid the carrying of pistols outright, their sale should at least be so restricted as to furnish a partial guarantee against their getting into improper hands. This very murder is a striking instance of the danger resulting from the present looseness of the traffic in firearms. Gill quarreled with Sullivan, when by all the testimony, he was more than half drunk. In that condition he went directly from the dram-shop to a neighboring gun-shop, bought a revolver, which the clerk who sold it loaded at his request, and with the weapon so procured, went directly back and shot his victim dead. It is only necessary to state the facts to show the preposterousness of permitting every irresponsible shopkeeper to sell loaded pistols to every drunken and murderous ruffian who applies for them. Our druggists are not allowed thus to vend poison to every applicant, and somewhat the same restrictions should certainly be applied to the sale of firearms, at least to the sale of pistols. Shot-gunsand rifles are not yet here favorite implements of assassination, as in the South-west, and there is little danger that a man who buys them does so with a sinister intent. But pistols cannot safely be committed to every irresponsible hand, and in someway their sale should be regulated and subjected to Police supervision.Nor need there be any apprehension that the just freedom of the citizen would thereby be infringed. The constitutional right to carry arms does not imply the right of every drunken loafer to bear about in his pocket the implements of murder. It is license, not liberty, that we seek to check, and we are sure that neither any reputable gunsmith, nor any reputable citizen, would object to such a restriction as that we propose. Men whom it was safe to trust with firearms could, without unnecessay trouble, prove that fact to the proper authorities, and obtain a suitable license. The other sort would then evade the regulation at their own peril. Our Police Magistrates would have no difficulty in deciding when a pistol was a"concealed weapon," in the full sense of the present statute, and when a legitimate weapon of
The New York TimesPublished: June 22, 1874Copyright The New York Times
"If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government . . . The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms..."
- Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #28."The defence of one’s self, justly called the primary law of nature, is not, nor can it be abrogated by any regulation of municipal law. This principle of defence is not confined merely to the person; it extends to the liberty and the property of a man: it is not confined merely to his own person; it extends to the persons of all those, to whom he bears a peculiar relation -- of his wife, of his parent, of his child, of his master, of his servant: nay, it extends to the person of every one, who is in danger; perhaps, to the liberty of every one, whose liberty is unjustly and forcibly attacked. It becomes humanity as well as justice."
- James Wilson, 'Of the Natural Rights of Individuals', 1790-1792 (Signed the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, Congressman, Delegate to the Constitutional Convention and U.S. Supreme Court Justice).
"Also, the conditions and circumstances of the period require a finding that while the stated purpose of the right to arms was to secure a well-regulated militia, the right to self-defense was assumed by the Framers."
- Chief Justice John Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court. [As quoted in Nunn v. State, 1 Ga. 243, 251 (1846); State v. Dawson, 272 N.C. 535, 159 S.E.2d 1, 9 (1968).]"For, in principle, there is no difference between a law prohibiting the wearing of concealed arms, and a law forbidding the wearing such as are exposed; and if the former be unconstitutional, the latter must be so likewise. But it should not be forgotten, that it is not only a part of the right that is secured by the constitution; it is the right entire and complete, as it existed at the adoption of the constitution; and if any portion of that right be impaired, immaterial how small the part may be, and immaterial the order of time at which it be done, it is equally forbidden by the constitution."
- Bliss vs. Commonwealth, 12 Ky. (2 Litt.) 90, at 92, and 93, 13 Am. Dec. 251 (1822)."Two propositions in our constitutional jurisprudence are no longer debatable. One is that the national government is one of enumerated powers; and the other, that a power enumerated and delegated by the Constitution to Congress is comprehensive and complete, without other limitations than those found in the Constitution itself.
"The Constitution is a written instrument. As such its meaning does not alter. That which it meant when adopted, it means now. Being a grant of powers to a government, its language is general; and, as changes come in social and political life, it embraces in its grasp all new conditions which are within the scope of the powers in terms conferred. In other words, [Page 199 U.S. 437, 449] while the powers granted do not change, they apply from generation to generation to all things to which they are in their nature applicable. This in no manner abridges the fact of its changeless nature and meaning. Those things which are within its grants of power, as those grants were understood when made, are still within them; and those things not within them remain still excluded. As said by Mr. Chief Justice Taney in Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393, 426, 15 L. ed. 691, 709:"'It is not only the same in words, but the same in meaning, and delegates the same powers to the government, and reserves and secures the same rights and privileges to the citizen; and as long as it continues to exist in its present form, it speaks not only in the same words, but with the same meaning and intent with which it spoke when it came from the hands of its framers, and was voted on and adopted by the people of the United States. Any other rule of construction would abrogate the judicial character of this court, and make it the mere reflex of the popular opinion or passion of the day.'"It must also be remembered that the framers of the Constitution were not mere visionaries, toying with speculations or theories, but practical men, dealing with the facts of political life as they understood them; putting into form the government they were creating, and prescribing, in language clear and intelligible, the powers that government was to take. Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, in Gobbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 188, 6 L. ed. 23, 68, well declared:"'As men whose intentions require no concealment generally employ the words which most directly and aptly express the ideas they intend to convey, the enlightened patriots who framed our Constitution, and the people who adopted it, must be understood to have employed words in their natural sense, and to have intended what they have said.'"- Mr. Justice Brewer deliver[ing] the opinion of the court, U.S. Supreme Court, [South Carolina v. US, 199 U.S. 437 (1905)]