Hugh Spitzer, Bearing Arms in Washington State, in Proceedings of the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys, Spring Conference (1997).
constitutional law, state constitutional law, state constitutions, legal history, right to bear arms, gun control, militias, weapons, guns, firearms
Article I, Section 24 of the Washington State Constitution directly affects two "hot topics" today: first, the increase in the carrying of weapons by the citizenry (particularly concealed weapons, with or without permits) and, second, the increase in "citizen militias" in various parts of the state. Article I, Section 24 also presents interesting issues from a pure state-constitutional-law standpoint, because it represents one of the striking characteristics of state constitutions: these basic documents of civil society for each state represent centuries of buildup and accretion. State constitutional provisions can often be analyzed in terms of layering. In preparing a state constitutional argument before a Washington court, we must peel away the layers of history behind a provision one by one to better understand its origins, purpose, and meaning. The history of Article I, Section 24, which was enacted as part of Washington's original Constitution in 1889, is a perfect example. This paper offers a brief history of provisions on the right to bear arms — from the Assize of Arms, proclaimed by Henry II in 1181 through the various provisions in the thirteen colonies and the federal constitution. It focuses on Washington's constitution and cases interpreting Washington's provision.