Friday, March 9, 2012

Edmund Burke, on the Right to Defend 3

“There remain some other heads upon which the Acts have changed the course of the common law; and first, with regard to the right of self-defence, which consists in the use of arms. This, though one of the rights by the law of nature, yet is so capable of abuses, that it may not be unwise to make some regulations concerning them; and many wise nations have thought proper to set several restrictions on this right, especially temporary ones, with regard to suspected persons, and on occasion of some imminent danger to the public from foreign invasion or domestic commotions. But provisions, in time of trouble proper, and perhaps necessary, may become in time of profound peace a scheme of tyranny. The method which the Statute Law of Ireland has taken upon this delicate article, is, to get rid of all difficulties at once by an universal prohibition to all persons, at all times, and under all circumstances, who are not Protestants, of using or keeping any kind of weapons whatsoever. In order to enforce this regulation, the whole spirit of the common law is changed; very severe penalties are enjoined; the largest powers are vested in the lowest magistrates. Any two Justices of Peace, or magistrates of a town, with or without information, at their pleasure, by themselves, or their warrant, are empowered to enter and search the house of any Papist, or even of any other person, whom they suspect to keep such arms in trust for them. The only limitation to the extent of this power is, that the search is to be made between the rising and setting of the sun; but even this qualification extends no farther than to the execution of the Act in the open country; for in all cities and their suburbs, in towns corporate and market towns, they may, at their discretion, and without information, break open houses, and institute such search at any hour of the day or night. This I say they may do at their discretion, and it seems a pretty ample power in the hands of such magistrates.”

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