made to disarm ”Free-Soilers” in ”Bloody Kansas,” Senator
Charles Sumner, who later played a leading role in the
adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, proclaimed that
”[n]ever was [the rifle] more needed in just self-defense
than now in Kansas.” The Crime Against Kansas: The
Apologies for the Crime: The True Remedy, Speech of Hon.
Charles Sumner in the Senate of the United States 64-65
(1856). Indeed, the 1856 Republican Party Platform pro-
tested that in Kansas the constitutional rights of the
people had been “fraudulently and violently taken from
them” and the ”right of the people to keep and bear arms”
had been “infringed.” National Party Platforms 1840-
1972, p. 27 (5th ed. 1973).17
After the Civil War, many of the over 180,000 African
Americans who served in the Union Army returned to the
States of the old Confederacy, where systematic efforts
were made to disarm them and other blacks. See Heller,
554 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 42); E. Foner, Reconstruction:
America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877, p. 8 (1988)
(hereinafter Foner). The laws of some States formally
prohibited African Americans from possessing firearms.
For example, a Mississippi law provided that “no freed-
man, free negro or mulatto, not in the military service of
the United States government, and not licensed so to do by
the board of police of his or her county, shall keep or carry
fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition, dirk or bowie
knife.” Certain Offenses of Freedmen, 1865 Miss. Laws
p. 165, §1, in 1 Documentary History of Reconstruction
289 (W. Fleming ed. 1950); see also Regulations for
Freedmen in Louisiana, in id., at 279280; H. R. Exec.
17 Abolitionists and Republicans were not alone in believing that the
right to keep and bear arms was a fundamental right. The 1864
Democratic Party Platform complained that the confiscation of firearms
by Union troops occupying parts of the South constituted ”the interfer-
ence with and denial of the right of the people to bear arms in their
defense.” National Party Platforms 18401972, at 34.
Doc. No. 70, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 233, 236 (1866) (de-
scribing a Kentucky law); E. McPherson, The Political
History of the United States of America During the Period
of Reconstruction 40 (1871) (describing a Florida law); id.,
at 33 (describing an Alabama law).18
Throughout the South, armed parties, often consisting
of ex-Confederate soldiers serving in the state militias,
forcibly took firearms from newly freed slaves. In the first
session of the 39th Congress, Senator Wilson told his
colleagues: ”In Mississippi rebel State forces, men who
were in the rebel armies, are traversing the State, visiting
the freedmen, disarming them, perpetrating murders and
outrages upon them; and the same things are done in
other sections of the country.” 39th Cong. Globe 40 (1865).
The Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction
which was widely reprinted in the press and distributed
by Members of the 39th Congress to their constituents
shortly after Congress approved the Fourteenth Amend-
ment19 contained numerous examples of such abuses.
See, e.g., Joint Committee on Reconstruction, H. R. Rep.
No. 30, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., pt. 2, pp. 219, 229, 272, pt. 3,
In South Carolina, prominent black citizens held a convention to
address the State’s black code. They drafted a memorial to Congress,
in which they included a plea for protection of their constitutional right
to keep and bear arms: ”‘We ask that, inasmuch as the Constitution of
the United States explicitly declares that the right to keep and bear
arms shall not be infringed . . . that the late efforts of the Legislature of
this State to pass an act to deprive us [of] arms be forbidden, as a plain
violation of the Constitution.'” S. Halbrook, Freedmen, The Fourteenth
Amendment, and The Right to Bear Arms, 1866-1876, p. 9 (1998)
(hereinafter Halbrook, Freedmen) (quoting 2 Proceedings of the Black
State Conventions, 18401865, p. 302 (P. Foner & G. Walker eds.
1980)). Senator Charles Sumner relayed the memorial to the Senate
and described the memorial as a request that black citizens “have the
constitutional protection in keeping arms.” 39th Cong. Globe 337.
19 See B. Kendrick, Journal of the Joint Committee of Fifteen on
Reconstruction 265266 (1914); Adamson v. California, 332 U. S. 46,
108-109 (1947) (appendix to dissenting opinion of Black, J.)