Quotes from the Founders: No to Gun Control!

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In the wake of the Orlando shooting, many people, especially those in the media, have been jumping on the gun control band wagon. One of the more popular things we have been hearing is that the 2nd Amendment was only meant for a well-regulated militia, and that they are only allowed to have firearms should the government regulate them; that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America never intended for us to have firearms like the military.

"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."

Looking at the text through the lens of modern English, one can understand the misinterpretation to an extent. After all, the word “regulation” today has come to mean that which is controlled or administered by some higher authority, be it the government, or some private organization. In fact, “well regulated” simply translated within the context is the same as “well equipped” with some level of  organization. The Random House College Dictionary (1980) gives four definitions for the word “regulate,” which were all in use during the Colonial period, and one more definition dating from 1690 (Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1989). They are:

1) To control or direct by a rule, principle, method, etc.

2) To adjust to some standard or requirement as for amount, degree, etc.

3) To adjust so as to ensure accuracy of operation.

4) To put in good order.

[obsolete sense] b. Of troops: Properly disciplined. Obs. rare-1.

1690 Lond. Gaz. No. 2568/3 We hear likewise that the French are in a great Allarm in Dauphine and Bresse, not having at present 1500 Men of regulated Troops on that side.

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Looking back to the 18th century, a “regular” army, meant a conventional army with the standard military equipment of the time. So as we can see a “well regulated” army didn’t refer to a professional military. Back in the 18th century, when describing a professional army, the terms “standing army” or “regulars” were used. As we can now see, “a well regulated militia” only refers to a well-equipped militia which was organized and maintained internal discipline within the organization. It does not in any way what so ever mean the modern definition of regulation requiring a higher authority control or administration. Federal control over the militia comes from other parts of the Constitution, but not directly from the Second Amendment.

So with that analysis in mind, perhaps we should look at what the Founding Fathers said regarding firearms and militia. We can now all better understand what they were saying with the differences compared to classical American English.

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Tenche Coxe: “Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American… The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” – The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.

Tenche Coxe: “As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.” – “Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution,” under the pseudonym “A Pennsylvanian” in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789.

Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: “Whenever governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.” – Spoken during floor debate on the Second Amendment, I Annals of Congress at 750, August 17, 1789.

Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: “What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty.” –  Rep. of Massachusetts, I Annals of Congress at 750, August 17, 1789.

Alexander Hamilton: “…that standing army can never be formidable (threatening) to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in the use of arms.” – Federalist Paper #29

Alexander Hamilton: “Little more can be aimed at with respect to the people at large than to have them properly armed and equipped.” (Id) {responding to the claim that the militia itself could threaten liberty}” “There is something so far-fetched, and so extravagant in the idea of danger of liberty from the militia that one is at a loss whether to treat it with gravity or raillery (mockery)”. (Id)

Alexander Hamilton: “The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious, if it were capable of being carried into execution. A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss. It would form an annual deduction from the productive labor of the country, to an amount which, calculating upon the present numbers of the people, would not fall far short of the whole expense of the civil establishments of all the States. To attempt a thing which would abridge the mass of labor and industry to so considerable an extent, would be unwise: and the experiment, if made, could not succeed, because it would not long be endured. Little more can reasonably be aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed and equipped” – Federalist Paper #2

Patrick Henry: “The people have a right to keep and bear arms.” – Elliott Debates at 185

Patrick Henry: “Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?” – 3 Elliot Debates at 168-169.

Patrick Henry: “The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.” – 3 Elliot Debates at 386.

Thomas Jefferson: “And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms… The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”- Letter to William S. Smith, 1787, in S. Padover (Ed.), Thomas Jefferson on Democracy (1939), p. 20.

Thomas Jefferson in his Commonplace Book, quotes Cesare Beccaria from his seminal work, On Crimes and Punishment:

“Laws that forbid the carrying of arms… disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”

Thomas Jefferson: “A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.” – Encyclopedia of T. Jefferson, 318 (Foley, Ed., 1967).

Thomas Jefferson: “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” – Proposal for a Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334 (C.J. Boyd, Ed. 1950)

Richard Henry Lee: “To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them…” – “Light Horse Harry” Lee, writing in Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic (1787-1788)

Richard Henry Lee: “A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms.” – Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer, at 169, 1788)

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James Madison: “…to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to the success of the general system;… to keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics – that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe;…” – First Inaugural Address, Saturday, March 4, 1809.

James Madison: “A WELL REGULATED militia, composed of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.” – I Annals of Congress, at 434, June 8th 1789, emphasis added.

James Madison: “As the greatest danger to liberty is from large standing armies, it is best to prevent them by an effectual provision for a good militia.” – Notes of debates in the 1787 Federal Convention

George Mason: “I ask you sir, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people.” – Elliott Debates, 425-426

Thomas Paine: “The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside… Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them…” – I Writings of Thomas Paine at 56 (1894)

William Rawle: “In the second article, it is declared, that a well regulated militia is necessary to a free state; a proposition from which few will dissent. Although in actual war, in the services of regular troops are confessedly more valuable; yet while peace prevails, and in the commencement of a war before a regular force can be raised, the militia form the palladium of the country. They are ready to repel invasion, to suppress insurrection, and preserve the good order and peace of government. That they should be well regulated, is judiciously added. A disorderly militia is disgraceful to itself, and dangerous not to the enemy, but to its own country. The duty of the state government is, to adopt such regulation as will tend to make good soldiers with the least interruptions of the ordinary and useful occupations of civil life. In this all the Union has a strong and visible interest.” – A View of the Constitution of the United States of America (1829)

Joseph Story: “The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people.” – Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. 3 vols. Boston, 1833.

Joseph Story: “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic…”

St. George Tucker: “The right of self-defense is the first law of nature; in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest possible limits…and [when] the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.” – I Blackstone COMMENTARIES St. George Tucker Ed., 1803, pg. 300 (App.)

George Washington: “A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.” – I Annual Meeting to Congress 1790

Perhaps now having read what the Founders said, with their intent fully understood using classical English. I don’t see how anyone can say that the 2nd Amendment says that the government has the right to control firearms, or militias.

Credit to GunCite for the citations on the definition of “well-regulated”

This article was edited for grammar, style, and spelling, but not for content. The views expressed are that of the author, Alon Ganon, exclusively, and do not reflect that of BeingLibertarian.com or Being Libertarian LLC

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