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10 Vt. L. Rev. 255 (1985)
The Right to Bear Arms in the First State Bills of Rights: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Vermont, and Massachusetts

handle is hein.journals/vlr10 and id is 261 raw text is: THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS IN THE FIRST
STATE BILLS OF RIGHTS: PENNSYLVANIA,
NORTH CAROLINA, VERMONT, AND
MASSACHUSETTS
Stephen P. Halbrook*
Of all federal Bill of Rights provisions, the second amendment
right of the people to keep and bear arms is perhaps the most
controversial and least understood. As the bicentennial of the
United States Constitution approaches, the intent of the founding
fathers as to the meaning of the second amendment and other pro-
visions will be widely discussed in the public forum. Yet the key to
understanding the federal Bill of Rights may lie in the state bills of
rights which preceded it.
An insight into the intent of the framers of the first state bills
of rights is significant in its own right, now that the state courts
are rediscovering their own bills of rights.' Knowing the intent of
the framers as to a particular freedom guaranteed under state con-
stitutional law would shed light on whether that state's courts have
appropriately interpreted such freedoms.2 The intent of the fram-
ers of the first state bills of rights may also assist in interpreting
identical or similar provisions of states admitted into the Union in
later periods.3 The need, recognized in all American jurisdictions,
* J.D., Georgetown University (1978); Ph. D., Florida State University (1972); Author
of That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of A Constitutional Right (University of New
Mexico Press 1984); Attorney at Law, Fairfax, VA.
1. See, e.g., Linde, First Things First: Rediscovering the States' Bill of Rights, 9 U.
BALT. L. REV. 379 (1980).
2. The highest courts of most states have rendered decisions where they follow or pur-
port to follow the intent of the framers of the constitutional provisions. It is never to be
forgotten that, in the construction of the language of the Constitution ... we are to place
ourselves as nearly as possible in the condition of the men who framed the instrument. Ex
Parte Baine, 121 U.S. 1, 12 (1887). See, e.g., Patsy v. Florida Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496
(1982) (a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action for declaratory or injunctive relief or damages in which
petitioner alleged that her employer had denied her employment opportunities solely on the
basis of her race and sex. The question of the framers' intent arose when the Court was
deciding whether or not petitioner had exhausted all available state administrative reme-
dies, and in the Court's review of fourteenth amendment and Civil Rights Act cases); Pay-
ton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1979) (case in which appeals were brought challenging the
constitutionality of New York statutes authorizing police officers to enter a private residence
without a warrant and without force, if such was necessary to make a routine felony arrest.
The Court looked to common law and the framers' intent when considering the constitu-
tionality of the arrest warrant).
3. On the borrowing of state constitutional provisions during westward expansion, see

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