Arms “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “arms” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and Webster’s Dictionary (1828):





See bearing arms; weapons; insignia.



See right to bear arms.



A right under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution; the right to bear arms as they borne by a well regulated militia in battle [Strickland v. State, 137 Ga 1, 72 SE 260]. Not a constitutional right to carry weapons on one’s person as a civilian [Hill v. State, 53 Ga 473, 480].



Anything used or designed to be used in destroying, defeating, or inuring an enemy; an instrument of offensive or defensive combat [56 Am J1st Weap § 2]. Something with which to fight [Harris v. Cameron, 81 Wis 239, 51 NW 437].

See dangerous weapon; deadly weapon.



Coats of arms; armorial bearings; emblems of rank. Pins, badges or ribbons worn by members of a club [6 Am 12d Assoc & C § 17].

In the days of chivalry and knight errantry, and at the present time, where distinctions are recognized by law, between wealth and other adventitious influences, and poverty or weakness, the adventurous and the great have adopted their insignia, suggested by valorous achievement, or other causes. These are called their arms or family escutcheon, and are usually engraved on their seals [Kirksey v. Bates (Ala) 7 Port 529].

As the term is used with reference to notarial seals, it means the armorial ensign of a state or political community, intended to distinguish it from others, and which is usually transferred to its national flag or banner. Yet, perhaps a public flag cannot always be considered as a true indication of the arms of the country to which it belongs; for most countries have two banners – one borne by vessels of war, and the other by those engaged in commerce [Kirksey v. Bates (Ala) 7 Port 529].


  1. Anything that a man wears for his defence, or takes in his hands, or uses in his anger, to cast at, or strike at another [Co. Litt. 161 b, 162 A; Crompt. Just. P. 65; Cunn. Dict. h. t.].

  2. The Constitution of the United States, Amendm. art. 2, declares, “that a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In Kentucky, a statute “to prevent persons from wearing concealed arms,” has been declared to be unconstitutional [2 Litt. R. 90], while in Indiana a similar statute has been holden valid and constitutional [3 Blackf. R. 229 Vide Story, Const. – 1889, 1890 Amer. Citizen, 176; 1 Tuck. Black. App. 300 Rawle on Const. 125].

  3. Heraldry – Signs of arms, or drawings painted on shields, banners, and the like. The arms of the United States are described in the Resolution of Congress, of June 20, 1782 [Vide Seal of the United States].



Anything that a man wears for his defense, or takes in his hands, or uses in his anger, to cast at or strike at another [Co. Litt. 161b, 162a; State v. Buzzard, 4 Ark. 18].

This term, as it is used in the constitution, relative to the right of citizens to bear arms, refers to the arms of a militiaman or solider, and the word is used in its military sense. The arms of the infantry solider are the musket and bayonet; of cavalry and dragoons, the sabre, holster pistols, and carbine; of the artillery, the field-piece, siege-gun, and mortar, with side arms. The term, in this connection, cannot be made to cover such weapons as dirks, daggers, slung-shots, sword-canes, brass knuckles, and bowie-knives. These are not military arms [English v. State, 35 Tex. 476, 14 Am. Rep. 374; Hill v. State, 53 Ga. 472; Fife v. State, 31 Ark. 455, 25 Am. Rep. 556; Andrews v. State, 3 Heisk. (Tenn.) 179, 8 Am. Rep. 8; Aymette v. State, 2 Humph. (Tenn.) 154].

Arms, or coat of arms, signifies insignia, i.e., ensigns of honor, such as were formerly assumed by soldiers of fortune, and painted on their shields to distinguish them; or nearly the same as armorial bearings (q. v.).



‘ARMS, n. plu. [L. arma].

  1. Weapons of offense, or armor for defense and protection of the body.

  2. War; hostility

    • Arms and the man I sing.

      • To be in arms, to be in a state of hostility, or in a military life.

      • To arms is a phrase which denotes a taking arms for war or hostility; particularly, a summoning to war.

      • To take arms, is to arm for attack or defense.

      • Bred to arms denotes that a person has been educated to the profession of a soldier.

  1. The ensigns armorial of a family; consisting of figures and colors borne in shields, banners, &c., as marks of dignity and distinction, and descending from father to son.

  2. In law, arms are any thing which a man takes in his hand in anger, to strike or assault another.

  3. In botany, one of the seven species of fulcra or props of plants, enumerated by Linne and others. The different species of arms or armor, are prickles, thorns, forks, and stings, which seem intended to protect the plants from injury by animals.

  • Sire arms, are such as my be charged with power, as cannon, muskets, mortars, &c.

  • A stand of arms consists of a musket, bayonet, cartridge-box and belt, with a sword. But for common soldiers a sword is not necessary.

  • In falconry, arms are the legs of a hawk from the thigh to the foot.

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