Right to keep and bear arms

A woman trains real-life defensive gun use scenarios with live ammunition at a video shooting range in Prague, Czech Republic.

The right to keep and bear arms (often referred to as the right to bear arms) is the people's right to possess weapons (arms) for their own defense.[1] Only few countries recognize people's right to keep and bear arms and protect it on statutory level, and even fewer protect the right on constitutional level.


The Bill of Rights 1689 allowed Protestant citizens of England to "have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law" and restricted the ability of the English Crown to have a standing army or to interfere with Protestants' right to bear arms "when Papists were both Armed and Imployed contrary to Law" and established that Parliament, not the Crown, could regulate the right to bear arms.[2][3]

Sir William Blackstone wrote in the 18th century that the right to have arms was auxiliary to the "natural right of resistance and self-preservation" subject to suitability and allowance by law.[4] The term arms as used in the 1600s, the term refers to the process of equipping for war.[5] It is commonly used as a synonym for weapon.[6]

Inclusion of this right in a written constitution is uncommon. In 1875, 17 percent of constitutions included a right to bear arms. Since the early twentieth century, "the proportion has been less than 9 percent and falling".[7] In their historical survey and comparative analysis of constitutions dating back to 1789,[7] Tom Ginsburg and colleagues "identified only 15 constitutions (in nine countries) that had ever included an explicit right to bear arms. Almost all of these constitutions have been in Latin America, and most were from the 19th century".[8]

Generally, where modern constitutions refer to arms at all, the purpose is "to allow the government to regulate their use or to compel military service, not to provide a right to bear them".[7] Constitutions which historically guaranteed a right to bear arms are those of Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Liberia, Mexico, Nicaragua and the United States of America.[9] Nearly all of the Latin American examples were modelled on that of the United States.[8] At present, out of the world’s nearly 200 constitutions, three still include a right to bear arms: Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States; of these three, only the last does not include explicit restrictive conditions.[7]