Why are medieval weapons laws at the center of a US Supreme Court case?

Login | November 12, 2021 Wesleyan University (THE CONVERSATION) In the opening scene of “The Last Duel,” the new film set in 14th-century France, a herald announces the rules for conduct at a tournament to the death. He declares that no members of the public – whatever their social background – are allowed to bring weapons to the event. This scene might seem far removed from 21st-century America. But medieval weapons laws – including a 1328 English statute prohibiting the public carry of edged weapons without royal permission – are at the center of dueling legal opinions in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. The plaintiffs are challenging New York’s “proper cause” gun law, which tightly restricts public carry of firearms. If they win, similar laws in several other states will be called into question. That means that concealed carry licensing laws could be broadly liberalized for millions of Americans currently living in those more restrictive jurisdictions. Few people realize how big a role history has played in the battle over gun rights – the topic of a 2019 collection of essays, “A Right to Bear Arms? The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment,” that I co-edited with Smithsonian Museum of American History curators Barton Hacker and Margaret Vining. The book explores how courts in the United States have turned to history for instruction in how guns should be treated – decrees, laws […]

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