Arms are man's best friend! (You can hug them too.)

No this is not a satire post about gun huggers, or a proposal for a bumpersticker showing a man hugging an AK-47 captioned "ARMS ARE FOR HUGGING!"

Much as I'd love to have time for such gun-lovin' antics, this post is an attempt to examine something I've been thinking about for some time and finally got around to writing.

What shamed me into this was to read Clayton Cramer's carefully researched and wonderfully thought-provoking law review article -- What Does "Bear Arms" Imply? -- which looks at the history behind the two words.

Usually the debate is about what is meant by "bearing" arms, but most people take it for granted what "arms" means. In fact, to most modern Americans, "bearing arms" means carrying a firearm.

But the Second Amendment says nothing about guns. Not even firearms. It's just been assumed that firearms were obviously what the founders had in mind. Obviously, they did, but is there any logical reason why the Second Amendment should be limited to guns? Could the government ban, say, pikes, crossbows, and edged weapons consistent with the Second Amendment? Considering that swords and pikes were very much in use as weapons then, and knives are still used now, a ban on knives would be no more constitutional than a ban on guns.

Cramer's article notes the history of knives, swords and other weapons as arms ("any Bill, Long-bow, Cross-bow, Hand-gun, Sword, Staff, Dagger, Halberd, Morespike, Spear, or any other manner of Weapon....") and cites cases involving knives.

Interestingly, the constitutionality of knife laws arises in a discussion of the DC gun case -- "The Parker Decision - Should Knife Owners Celebrate?": addition to some of the strictest gun restrictions in the nation, Washington, D.C., also is home to draconian knife laws, none of which have yet been ruled unconstitutional. For example, D.C. prohibits carry "on or about the person, whether open or concealed, of any deadly or dangerous weapon. Period. Even in your own home."5 Carry of any such weapon in public is a felony....
Anyone who doesn't think a knife has a military purpose, think again. (Knives were standard issue in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and knife fighting was taught routinely as part of hand to hand combat.) This is not to argue that the Second Amenment is limited to arms with military purposes, but people sometimes claim that it is, and I think that argument would be unavailing.

In short, arms are weapons. Things used in self defense. Including but not limited to guns.

The word "arms" predates the invention of guns (which, as firearms are only one form of arms), and indeed goes all the way back to the Romans:

From Middle English armes, weapons, from Old French, pl. of arme, weapon, from Latin arma, weapons; see ar- in Indo-European roots. V., from Middle English armen, from Old French armer, from Latin armre, from arma.
Think "Coat of Arms" and the many different forms of weapons emblazoned on them come to mind -- not the least of which are numerous dogs -- especially dogs of war.

I like this guy:


While Benjamin Franklin wanted dogs in the colonial militia, and I assume they had dogs like any other soldiers, I haven't searched the record in detail.

However, I did find a Bisexual Militia Dog T-Shirt.


(A steal at $13.99!)

In short, arms are weapons, and dogs -- especially dogs capable of being used for defense purposes -- can be considered arms.

In fact, in New York and other places, there are serious attempts to get dogs classified as weapons.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Shotgun. Switchblade. Blackjack. Dog?

A dangerous canine would be defined as a "deadly weapon" under a bill before the New York Legislature.

"Some of these dogs are killing machines," said Assemblyman Patrick Manning, whose proposal also would allow towns to ban certain breeds.

The bill is among a pack of legislative solutions being offered nationwide to address the problem of vicious dogs, which Manning said are becoming "the weapon of choice for drug dealers or gangbangers."

Get that? Criminals use dogs!

Sound familiar?

Lest anyone think this is an isolated idea, PETA (the major animal "rights" organization) has famously argued for selective dog banning in a famous piece titled ominously, "Some Dogs are Weapons - Ban Them."

My inquiry is whether banning dogs kept and trained for purposes of self defense would violate the Second Amendment.

While most people are so locked into modern stereotypes that it would never occur to them that dogs are in fact a form of arms, I think banning dogs would violate the Second Amendment, because dogs are weapons, or at least they certainly can be. Not only have dogs have been used in warfare since ancient times, but they have been used militarily in virtually every war, and still are.

Parenthetically, the most decorated war dog in U.S. history was a pit bull named "Stubby." Yeah, my bias is showing there. I admit it.

Certainly, to the extent that any legislation seeks to ban dogs because of their status as being weapons, the Second Amendment is clearly implicated, as the long history of dogs being used for self defense is beyond debate. Taking away someone's dog is every bit as much taking away his right to self defense as is taking away his gun.

Both are forms of disarmament.

If I had the hypothetical choice of either only a dog or only a gun to defend my home, I'd take the dog. I have to sleep, but Coco is always on duty, and she hears and smells what I cannot. A gun can't watch, listen and warn you, nor does it protect your home while you're away.

It is no accident that dogs are used by drug dealers for protection against SWAT teams, just as it's no accident that they're used by honest homeowners to protect their homes and families, by police to go after bad guys, and by the military to go after enemies. Nor is it an accident that power-crazed bureaucrats might see them as arms to be take them away just as they want to take away guns. (Dogs are a serious impediment to police state apparatchiks.)

Disarmament is disarmament. It is not limited to gun control. Nor is the Second Amendment limited to guns.

I think a good case can be made that it applies to dogs kept for self defense.

UPDATE: As Clayton Cramer reminds me, dog control is not new. In "The Racist Roots of Gun Control," it was made clear that dog ownership by slaves was prohibited in certain states.

What's new is the way it is packaged.

posted by Eric on 01.26.08 at 06:43 PM


"Bear" means "give birth to." This puts it all in a new perspective.

Bleepless   ·  January 26, 2008 7:10 PM

Coco is sometimes a bit hard to bear. (Especially when she wants to go for a drive in the car. Then she's a real burden.)

Not that bearing is a limitation on keeping.

Eric Scheie   ·  January 26, 2008 7:25 PM

Nor is bearing necessarily limited to carrying in one's hands.

....the men who laid down their lives in Concord on Patriot's Day, April 19, 1775, demonstrated, the men who hallowed this ground did so in defense of the right to bear cannon...

Eric Scheie   ·  January 26, 2008 7:33 PM

must join the bisexual militia

justin case's personal secretary   ·  January 26, 2008 8:18 PM

I'm an opera fan and it really opened my eyes when a nobleman character trying to woo a common girl said, "you children will bear arms". After all around 1700, didn't western civilization just come off about 500 years when nobility could bear arms and commoners could not. And I'll bet commoners felt the difference many time in an average week.

Doug_S   ·  January 27, 2008 4:18 PM

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