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That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right

by Stephen P. Halbrook

Published by The Independent Institute (1984, updated 2013)


This book, published by the University of New Mexico Press in 1984 and now republished in an updated version, is the most comprehensive work ever written on the right to keep and bear arms, which is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Its author, attorney Stephen P. Halbrook, traces the philosophical, historical, and legal roots of the right of the citizen to have arms, beginning in ancient Greece and carrying the analysis forward to legal and policy controversies of today.

The power of firearms has stirred passions over the right of the citizenry to own and bear weapons throughout western civilization. Authored by the principal legal expert on the Second Amendment, That Every Man Be Armed is the authorative book on the ideas, history, and legal precedents of the citizen’s right to possess arms as being essential to democracy as is freedom of speech.

That Every Man Be Armed traces the Second Amendment’s origins from ancient Greece and Rome to 18th century France and England through the American Revolution, ratification of the Constitution and adoption of the Bill of Rights. Halbrook further traces the Amendment’s significance throughout American history to current debates over gun controls, assembling a systematic interpretation of state and federal opinions and Supreme Court decisions. This comprehensive and lucid book reveals that the right to bear arms is in indispensable form of individual protection against both violent crime and government infringement of human liberties.

That Every Man Be Armed was cited as authority by the Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, “Whether the Second Amendment Secures an Individual Right” (2004), and in the following judicial opinions:

  • Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 939 n.2 (1997) (Thomas, J., concurring)
  • Silveira v. Lockyer, 328 F.3d 567, 577 n.53 (9th Cir. 2003) (Kleinfeld, J., joined by Kozinski, O’Scannlain, & Nelson, dissenting)
  • United States v. Emerson, 46 F.Supp.2d 598, 603-09 (N.D. Tex. 1999)
  • Mosby v. Devine, 851 A.2d 1031, 1052 (R.I. 2004) (Flanders, J., dissenting)


Introduction: Firearms Prohibition and Constitutional Rights

Part I: The Elementary Books of the Public Right

  • The Citizen as Arms Bearer in Greek Polity: Plato and Aristotle
  • From Republic to Empire in Rome: Cicero versus Caesar
  • Machiavellian Interlude: Freedom and the Popular Militia
  • Absolutism versus Republicanism in the Seventeenth Century
  • Arms, Militia, and Penal Reform in Eighteenth-Century Liberal Thought

Part II: The Common Law of England

  • The Tradition of the Armed Freeman
  • Gun Control Laws of the Absolute Monarchs
  • That Subjects May Have Arms for Their Defense: The Glorious Revolution and Bill of Rights
  • The Common-Law Liberty to Have Arms: From Coke to Blackstone

Part III: The American Revolution and the Second Amendment

  • Poore Endebted Discontented and Armed: Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676
  • The American Revolution: Armed Citizens against Standing Army
  • The Controversy over Ratification of the Constitution
  • To Keep and Bear Their Private Arms: The Adoption of the Bill of Rights

Part IV: Antebellum Interpretations

  • Judicial Commentaries: The Armed Citizen as the Palladium of Liberty
  • Carrying Weapons Concealed: The Only Right Questioned in Early State Cases
  • The Disarmed Slave and the Dred Scott Dilemma
  • That “The People” Means All Humans: Abolitionist Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment

Part V: Freedmen, Firearms, and the Fourteenth Amendment

  • That No State Shall Disarm a Freedman: The Proposal of the Fourteenth Amendment
  • The Public Understanding and State Ratifications of the Fourteenth Amendment
  • The Impact of the Fourteenth Amendment upon State Constitutions
  • That No Militia Shall Disarm a Freedman: The Abolition of the Southern Militia Organizations, 1866-1869
  • Against Deprivation under Color of State Law of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms: The Civil Rights Acts of 1871 and 1875

Part VI: The Supreme Court Speaks

  • Post-Reconstruction Decisions
  • The Public Understanding and State Ratifications of the Fourteenth Amendment
  • The Right to Keep and Bear Militia Arms: United States v. Miller (1939)
  • The Logic of Incorporation and the Fundamental Character of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms

Part VII: State and Federal Judicial Opinions

  • The Pistol as a Protected Arm
  • State Court Decisions since World War II
  • To Disarm Felons or to Disarm Citizens? Federal Court Decisions from 1940

Afterword: Public Policy and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms


“Relying on his background as a political philosopher and lawyer, Halbrook’s meticulous research has produced the encyclopedic book on the Second Amendment from its background in Ancient Greece through English common law to its enactment in 18th Century America and subsequent legal interpretations. That Every Man Be Armed is must reading for all those interested in the right to possess and acquire firearms.”

— DON B. KATES, JR., ed., Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out

That Every Man Be Armed is the first scholarly treatise that is both comprehensive and in-depth. […] The book is suitable for a very wide audience.”


That Every Man Be Armed is the definitive book on the historical and legal development of the Second Amendment and our right to bear arms.”

— ORRIN G. HATCH, U.S. Senator

“The need for careful, impartial information makes Halbrook’s book especially welcome. […] That Every Man Be Armed is comprehensive and well-written.”


That Every Man Be Armed is extremely well-documented and is indispensable to anyone seriously interested in understanding the constitutional and other issues involved in the great American gun control debate.”


“Halbrook has amassed a great deal of original material and has synthesized it in a very convincing manner. The book is a very impressive research job, showing a deep and wide-ranging knowledge of sources. Much new material has been uncovered. […] This book is clearly unique, a path-breaking study of the subject.”

— DAVID I. CAPLAN, Ph.D., Attorney at Law