Some readers have asked about the reference in my last missive to the English Bill of Rights seemingly limiting the right have arms to”subjects which are Protestants” as the beneficiaries of the right to have arms.
“That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;” English Bill of Rights, 1 Will. & Mary Session 2, Ch 2, Cl 7.
“The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.” Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England Book I, Chapter 1.
Both are available on line at the Avalon Project. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/
The Bill of Rights was enacted in the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which Parliament deposed King James II and invited his daughter and son-in-law to assume the English throne. James succeeded to the throne upon the death without legitimate issue of his brother, Charles II. He had grown up in France during the Cromwellian interregnum, and was there exposed to the Divine Right of Kings theory of Louis XIV. James also converted to Roman Catholicism. Upon his accession, he attempted to rule as an absolute monarch and to impose his religious faith on the English. His second wife, Mary of Modena was Italian, and was widely suspected of being an agent of the Pope, the Papacy still being a political power at the time, and diametrically opposed to England’s foreign interests.
James, like absolutists before and since, attempted to disarm the citizenry, thus giving rise to the right to have arms clause in the Bill of Rights, expressly limiting it to Protestants. The “suitable to their conditions” probably meant that private citizens would not possess artillery and could be construed to exclude the lower orders of English society. The “as allowed by law” in effect made the right meaningless in the future. Parliament has unlimited theoretical power, including the power to change the un-codified British Constitution. Its only limitation is that it cannot bind a future Parliament. An Act of Parliament cannot be unconstitutional. The practical limit to its power is the strong tradition of adherence to its institutions, including the monarchy, which has the theoretical power to dissolve Parliament.
Quite simply, Britain could restore the right of the people to keep and bear arms by a single Act of Parliament. It is doubtful it would do that, however. Even though it has been proven in this country that increased access to and the ability to carry weapons is always accompanied by a decrease in crime, there is a widespread belief to the contrary, as well as a century-long trend to restrict firearms (and virtually every other type of weapon in Britain). In the wake of these recent riots, that could be changing, but I doubt it.
For an interesting summary of the history of gun control in Britain and the unhappy results, see http://reason.com/archives/2002/11/01/gun-controls-twisted-outcome