A recent TTAG post touched on the growing movement in Italy to recognize the people’s fundamental human right of self-defense. It was mentioned that gun owner control laws on the continent began in the years between WWI and WWII, but the European elite’s fear of weapons in the hands of the peasantry goes back farther than that.
Gun owner laws are hardly a new idea. Shortly after the development of the first functioning handheld guns, monarchs and lords were passing laws and edicts restricting their ownership and use to all but the privileged classes. As early as 1508, King Henry VII of England decreed that crossbows could be possessed only by royal permit. Credit for the first concealed handgun law goes to the Emperor Maximilian I – in 1517 he banned the wheellock pistol throughout the Holy Roman Empire, the first firearm that could be easily hidden under a cloak or coat as it did not require a burning match to fire it.
In 1515, Henry VIII decreed “in An Acte Avoidyng and Shoting Crossbowes Gonnes” that only wealthy landowners could possess firearms, thus ensuring that only those subjects beholden to the crown could own such dangerous weapons.
While he did repeal Henry VII’s 1508 law regarding crossbows, he later reinstated it in 1537 to include handguns, “with the proviso, that those persons who were permitted to carry hand-guns must have none that exceeded two and a half feet in length, including the stock.” We can suppose that a shorter gun might have been seen as unsuitable for the military and was thus royally okay for a mere subject to own; ye olde “civilian gun versus military assault weapon” argument?
Some years later in 1542, Henry VIII again favored his rich pals by issuing the first hunting licenses to those whose property was valued at 100 pounds or more. That made the first legal recognition of the use of guns by criminals and the people’s right to feel safe. “(N)owe of late the saide evill disposed persons have used and yet doe daylie use to ride and go on the Kings high Wayes and elsewhere having with them Crossbowes and little handguns ready furnished with Quarrel, Gunpowder, fyer and touché, to the great peril and fear of the Kings most loving subjects.” Those poor, most loving subjects…. do it for the children!
Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I got in on the gun owner control mess too. Some ten years after the assassination of William I, Prince of Orange (as mentioned in a previous post), she was terrified of the idea of a Roman Catholic sympathizer doing her in and prohibited the possession of a wheellock pistol near any royal palace in 1594. The definition of “near” was unclear.
While English Common Law had long held the right of people to defend themselves and their homes as sacrosanct, the particulars regarding the means by which they could accomplish that has long been a subject of contention for the ruling classes. Indeed, the fleeting and fickle nature of what types, style, size and number of weapons should be permitted to the peasantry by the elites is why our Founding Fathers had the wisdom and foresight to prohibit our fledgling government from having any say in the matter. Or so the theory goes.