Second Amendment to the United States Constitution

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The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. ~ Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
In areas where the government has proven itself either unwilling or unable to defend the lives and the property of Negroes, it's time for Negroes to defend themselves. Article number two of the constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun. It is constitutionally legal to own a shotgun or a rifle. ~ Malcolm X
If the white man doesn’t want the black man buying rifles and shotguns, then let the government do its job. ~ Malcolm X
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. ~ Noah Webster
Power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. ~ Noah Webster
Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people. ~ George Mason
Arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world... Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them; for while avarice and ambition have a place in the heart of man, the weak will become a prey to the strong. ~ Thomas Paine
Congress has no power to disarm the militia. Their swords and every terrible implement of the soldier are the birthright of Americans. ~ Tench Coxe
A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves. ~ Melancton Smith
To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always posses arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them. ~ Melancton Smith
Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? ~ Tench Coxe
The militia, who are in fact the effective part of the people at large, will render many troops quite unnecessary. ~ Tench Coxe
The people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms. ~ Tench Coxe
Arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The balance of power is the scale of peace. 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. And while a single nation refuses to lay them down, it is proper that all should keep them up. ~ Thomas Paine
For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is their best security. ~ Thomas Jefferson
It is their right and duty to be at all times armed. ~ Thomas Jefferson
The majority falls prey to the delusion, popular in some circles, that ordinary people are too careless and stupid to own guns, and we would be far better off leaving all weapons in the hands of professionals on the government payroll. But the simple truth, born of experience, is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people... ~ Alex Kozinski
Tragedies of history, Stalin's atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few, were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece. ~ Alex Kozinski
In a free society, the citizens are armed and the police are disarmed. In a police state, the police are armed and the citizens are disarmed. Make no mistake about it, politicians and professors who are advocates of 'gun control' are partisans of a police state. They want America to be more like Germany, not like America. ~ Kelley L. Ross
Racism underlies gun control laws; and not in any subtle way. Throughout much of American history, gun control was openly stated as a method for keeping blacks and Hispanics 'in their place', and to quiet the racial fears of whites. ~ Clayton E. Cramer
Motivations for disarming blacks in the past are really not so different from the motivations for disarming law-abiding citizens today. In the last century, the official rhetoric in support of such laws was that 'they' were too violent, too untrustworthy, to be allowed weapons. Today, the same elitist rhetoric regards law-abiding Americans in the same way, as child-like creatures in need of guidance. ~ Clayton E. Cramer
One of the goals of disarming blacks was to make them more willing to accept various forms of economic oppression. ~ Clayton E. Cramer
The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle. ~ Melancton Smith
Gun control has historically been a tool of racism, and associated with racist attitudes about black violence. Similarly, many gun control laws impinge on that most fundamental of rights: self-defense. Racism is so intimately tied to the history of gun control in America. ~ Clayton E. Cramer
Gun control in America possesses an ugly component. Discrimination and oppression of blacks, other racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and other 'unwanted elements', including union organizers and agrarian reformers. Firearms laws were often enacted to disarm and facilitate repressive action against these groups. The first gun control laws were enacted in the antebellum south forbidding blacks, whether free or slave, to possess arms. ~ Stefan B. Tahmassebi
The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them. ~ Joseph Story

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, relating to the right of people to bear arms, was enacted as part of the Bill of Rights, its ratification occurring on 15 December 1791 with the support of the Virginia Legislature.

Text of the Second Amendment[edit]

The Second Amendment, as passed by the House and Senate and later ratified by the States, reads:

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.

The hand-written copy of the Bill of Rights which hangs in the National Archives had slightly different capitalization and punctuation inserted by William Lambert, the scribe who prepared it. This copy reads:

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.

Both versions are commonly used by "official" U.S. government publications.

Earlier proposals and drafts of the Amendment[edit]

And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.
Samuel Adams, (6 February 1788), reported in Charles Hale, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1856), p. 86. This language was proposed in the Massachusetts convention for ratification of the U.S. Constitution to be added to Article I of that document.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
Original text of what was to become the Second Amendment, as brought to the floor to the first session of the first congress of the U.S. House of Representatives. original text
A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms.
Reworded version of the Second Amendment by the select committee on the Bill of Rights, July 28th 1789. AoC pp. 669).
A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
Draft version of the Second Amendment sent by the House of Representatives to the United States Senate, on August 24th, 1789. (Note: When the Amendment was transcribed, the semicolon in the religious exemption portion was changed to a comma by the Senate scribe).
A well regulated militia, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed
Revision voted on in the U.S. Senate, September 4th, 1789.
A well regulated militia being the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Final version passed by the U.S. Senate; the phrase "necessary to" was added when the proposed Amendment was entered into the U.S. House journal.

Quotes relating to the adoption of the Amendment[edit]

The following statements were made by various founding fathers prior to the adoption of the Second Amendment. While most date from before the wording of the second amendment was established, four were made during the 1789 debates over its adoption:

Thomas Jefferson[edit]

  • No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.
    • Proposed Virginia Constitution, June, 1776.
    • Occasionally this quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson is given with the following citation: Thomas Jefferson Papers, 334 (C.J.Boyd, Ed., 1950). The publication exists, but the quote does not. And the editor's correct name is Julian P. Boyd, not C.J. Boyd. In other cases, this quote is added to the end of a proven Jefferson quote "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms..." Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776, Jefferson Papers 344. What he actually said, in context of the Virginia Constitution drafts is:
      • Draft 1: "No Freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms."1.
      • Draft 2: "No Freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [in his own lands or tenements]."
      • Draft 3: "No Freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [in his own lands or tenements]."
  • As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a 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. Never think of taking a book with you.
  • God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.
  • What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
  • One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Washington, 1796. As quoted in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, 20 Vols., Washington, D.C., 1903-04, 9:341.
  • The constitutions of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, … or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of the press.

John Adams[edit]

  • Here every private person is authorized to arm himself, and on the strength of this authority, I do not deny the inhabitants had a right to arm themselves at that time, for their defense, not for offence.
    • As defense attorney for the British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre. Reported in L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, ed., Legal Papers of John Adams (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1965), 3:248.
  • To see that the people be continually trained up in the exercise of arms, and the militia lodged only in the people's hands.
    • Marchamont Nedhams, reported in Adams', 'A Defense of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States of America 3:471 (1788); Adams wrote there that "[T]he rule in general is excellent".
  • To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense, or by partial orders of towns, countries or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws.
    • A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States 3:475 (1787-1788).

James Madison[edit]

  • The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for the common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the late successful resistance of this country against the British arms will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments of the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
  • In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

George Mason[edit]

George Mason is considered the "Father of the Bill of Rights." Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which detailed specific rights of citizens. He was later a leader of those who pressed for the addition of explicitly stated individual rights as part of the U.S. Constitution.

  • [W]hen the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually. . . .
    • At Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 14, 1788), reported in Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions 3:380.
  • I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and rich and poor. . . .
    • Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 16, 1788), reported in Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions 3:425.
  • That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free state.
    • Within Mason's declaration of "the essential and unalienable Rights of the People", later adopted by the Virginia ratification convention (1788).

Patrick Henry[edit]

  • Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.
    • Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 5, 1788), reported in Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions 3:45.
  • My great objection to this government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights or of waging war against tyrants.
    • Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 5, 1788), reported in Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions 3:47.
  • [W]here and when did freedom exist when the power of the sword and purse were given up from the people?
    • Virginia's U.S. Constitution ratification convention (June 9, 1788), Elliot, Debates of the Several State Conventions, 3:169.

Tench Coxe[edit]

  • The militia, who are in fact the effective part of the people at large, will render many troops quite unnecessary. They will form a powerful check upon the regular troops, and will generally be sufficient to over-awe them.
    • Tench Coxe, Delegate to Continental Congress, October 21, 1787.
  • The power of the sword, say the minority of Pennsylvania, is in the hands of Congress. My friends and countrymen, it is not so, for THE POWERS OF THE SWORD ARE IN THE HANDS OF THE YEOMANRY OF AMERICA FROM SIXTEEN TO SIXTY. The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. 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 birth-right 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.
    • Tench Coxe, Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789, A friend of James Madison, writing in support of the Madison's first draft of the Bill of Rights.
  • The power of the sword, say the minority..., is in the hands of Congress. My friends and countrymen, it is not so, for The powers of the sword are in the hands of the yeomanry of America from sixteen to sixty. The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. 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 has no power to disarm the militia. Their swords and every terrible implement of the soldier are the birthright of Americans. 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 always remain, in the hands of the people.
    • Tench Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette (20 February 1788).

Thomas Paine[edit]

  • [A]rms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The balance of power is the scale of peace. 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. And while a single nation refuses to lay them down, it is proper that all should keep them up. Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them; for while avarice and ambition have a place in the heart of man, the weak will become a prey to the strong. The history of every age and nation establishes these truths, and facts need but little arguments when they prove themselves.

Alexander Hamilton[edit]

  • If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.
  • To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude, that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast with much more powerful sway, than the mild and beneficent sentiments of peace ; and that to model our political system upon speculations of lasting tranquility, is to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.
  • The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.

Noah Webster[edit]

  • Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.
    • Noah Webster, writing under the nom de plume of "A Citizen of America", as quoted in An Examination Into the Leading Principles of the Constitution (17 October 1787).

Melancton Smith[edit]

  • A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves...and include all men capable of bearing arms...To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always posses arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them...The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle.

Fisher Ames[edit]

  • The rights of conscience, of bearing arms, of changing the government, are declared to be inherent in the people.
    • Fisher Ames, Letter to F.R. Minoe, June 12, 1789 (reporting to Minoe on the amendments proposed by Madison).

Others[edit]

  • It is true, the yeomanry of the country possess the lands, the weight of property, possess arms, and are too strong a body of men to be openly offended-and, therefore, it is urged, they will take care of themselves, that men who shall govern will not dare pay any disrespect to their opinions. It is easily perceived, that if they have not their proper negative upon passing laws in congress, or on the passage of laws relative to taxes and armies, they may in twenty or thirty years be by means imperceptible to them, totally deprived of that boasted weight and strength: This may be done in great measure by congress, if disposed to do it, by modelling the militia. Should one fifth, or one eighth part of the men capable of bearing arms, be made a select militia, as has been proposed, and those the young and ardent part of the community, possessed of but little or no property, and all the others put upon a plan that will render them of no importance, the former will answer all the purposes of an army, while the latter will be defenceless.

Other quotes[edit]

  • Because there is nothing proportionate between the armed and the unarmed; and it is not reasonable that he who is armed should yield obedience willingly to him who is unarmed, or that the unarmed man should be secure among armed servants. Because, there being in the one disdain and in the other suspicion, it is not possible for them to work well together.
    • Niccolò Machiavelli, as quoted in The Prince (1513), by N. Machiavelli, "Chapter 14: That Which Concerns a Prince on the Subject of Art and War", pp. 59-60. Also quoted in Machiavelli: A Biography, by Miles J. Unger, p. 102. This is often quoted as: There can be no proper relation between one who is armed and one who is not. Nor it is reasonable to expect that one who is armed will voluntarily obey one who is not.
  • 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 limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, 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.
  • The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence 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. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them. And yet, thought this truth would seem so clear, and the importance of a well regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense of its burthens, to be rid of all regulations. How is it practicable to keep the people duly armed without some organization, it is difficult to see. There is certainly no small danger, that indifference may lead to disgust, and disgust to contempt; and thus gradually undermine all the protection intended by this clause of our national bill of rights.
    • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), vol. 3, pp. 746-747.
  • The rifle has ever been the companion of the pioneer, and, under God, his tutelary protector against the red man and the beast of the forest. Never was this efficient weapon more needed in just self-defence, than now in Kansas, and at least one article in our National Constitution must be blotted out; before the complete right to it can in any way be impeached. And yet such is the madness of the hour, that, in defiance of the solemn guarantee, embodied in the Amendments to the Constitution, that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." the people of Kansas have been arraigned for keeping and bearing them, and the senator from South Carolina has had the face to say openly, on this floor, that they should be disarmed -- of course, that the fanatics of slavery, his allies and constituents, may meet no impediment. Sir, the senator is venerable with years; he is reputed also to have worn at home, in the State which he represents, judicial honors; and he is placed here at the head of an important Committee occupied particularly with questions of law; but neither his years, nor his position, past or present, can give respectability to the demand he has made, or save him from indignant condemnation, when, to compass the wretched purposes of a wretched cause, he thus proposes to trample on one of the plainest provisions of constitutional liberty.
  • The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's goodbye to the Bill of Rights.
    • H.L. Mencken, "A Time to be Wary" (1933), collected in A Carnival of Buncombe.
  • Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.
    • Mao Zedong, Chapter 5, originally published in Problems of War and Strategy (6 November 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 224.
  • Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest. If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.
  • You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.
    • Al Capone, as quoted in Forbes (6 October 1986).
  • The original Act of 1893 was passed when there was a great influx of negro laborers in this State drawn here for the purpose of working in turpentine and lumber camps. The same condition existed when the Act was amended in 1901 and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers and to thereby reduce the unlawful homicides that were prevalent in turpentine and saw-mill camps and to give the white citizens in sparsely settled areas a better feeling of security. The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied.
  • The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.
  • Last but not least, I must say this concerning the great controversy over rifles and shotguns. The only thing that I’ve ever said is that in areas where the government has proven itself either unwilling or unable to defend the lives and the property of Negroes, it’s time for Negroes to defend themselves. Article number two of the constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun. It is constitutionally legal to own a shotgun or a rifle. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get a rifle and form battalions and go out looking for white folks, although you’d be within your rights—I mean, you’d be justified; but that would be illegal and we don’t do anything illegal. If the white man doesn’t want the black man buying rifles and shotguns, then let the government do its job. [...] If he’s not going to do his job in running the government and providing you and me with the protection that our taxes are supposed to be for, since he spends all those billions for his defense budget, he certainly can’t begrudge you and me spending $12 or $15 for a single-shot, or double-action. I hope you understand. Don’t go out shooting people [...].
  • If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
    • Anonymous American adage, as quoted in The Wayward Welfare State (1981) by Roger A. Freeman, p. 286
    • When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
      • Bumper sticker, quoted in Design with Type (1982) by Carl Dair, p. 174.
  • The history of gun control in America possesses an ugly component. Discrimination and oppression of blacks, other racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and other 'unwanted elements', including union organizers and agrarian reformers. Firearms laws were often enacted to disarm and facilitate repressive action against these groups. The first gun control laws were enacted in the antebellum south forbidding blacks, whether free or slave, to possess arms, in order to maintain blacks in their servile status. After the civil war, the south continued to pass restrictive firearms laws in order to deprive the newly freed blacks from exercising their rights of citizenship. During the later part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, gun control laws were passed in the south in order to disarm agrarian reformers and in the North to disarm union organizers. In the North, a strong xenophobic reaction to recent waves of immigrants added further fuel for gun control laws which were used to disarm such persons. Other firearms ownership restrictions were adopted in order to repress the incipient black civil rights movement. Another old American prejudice supported such gun control efforts, then as it does now. The idea that poor people, and especially the black poor, are not to be trusted with firearms. Even now, in many jurisdictions in which police departments have wide discretion in issuing firearm permits, the effect is that permits are rarely issued to poor or minority citizens. Blacks, and especially poor blacks, are disproportionately the victims of crime. Yet, these citizens are often not afforded the same police protections that other more affluent and less crime ridden neighborhoods or communities enjoy. This lack of protection is especially so in the inner city urban ghettos.
  • Firearms prohibitions discriminate against those poor and minority citizens who must rely on such arms to defend themselves from criminal activity to a much greater degree than affluent citizens living in safer and better protected communities. Prohibiting firearms ownership among law-abiding citizens will do nothing to reduce violent crime since such behavior is virtually non-existent among persons without previous records of serious violence or criminal behavior. However, as many studies indicate, such firearms prohibitions may significantly reduce the deterrent effect of widespread civilian gun ownership on criminals, especially in regard to crimes such as residential burglaries and commercial robberies. Further, statistics and past history show that many millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans would not heed any gun ban, either prohibiting semiautomatic firearms or handguns. This response should be expected given the traditional American attitude towards guns and the banning of any commodity deeply valued by a substantial portion of society. Finally, constitutional protections, other than the right to keep and bear arms, have been violated and are threatened by the enforcement of restrictive firearms laws. Present enforcement of firearms statutes account for numerous illegal searches and seizures by the police. Most often these unconstitutional searches and seizures are directed against the poor and racial minorities. Violent crime, however serious, does not justify the wholesale violation of fundamental freedoms, such as the right to be secure in one's person and effects from unwanted government intrusion.
  • The historical purpose of gun control laws in America has been one of discrimination and disenfranchisement of blacks, immigrants, and other minorities. American gun control laws have been enacted to disarm and facilitate repressive actions against union organizers, workers, the foreign-born and racial minorities. Bans on particular types of firearms and firearms registration schemes have been enacted in many American jurisdictions for the alleged purpose of controlling crime. Often, however, the purpose or actual effect of such laws or regulations was to disarm and exert better control over the above-noted groups.
  • The development of racially based slavery in the seventeenth century American colonies was accompanied by the creation of laws meting out separate treatment and granting separate rights on the basis of race. An early sign of such emerging restrictions and one of the most important legal distinctions was the passing of laws denying free blacks the right to keep arms.
  • In the later part of the seventeenth century, fear of slave uprisings in the south accelerated the passage of laws dealing with firearms possessions by blacks.
  • The framers of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 argued that the issue of the right to keep and bear arms by the newly freed slaves was of vital importance
  • Behind current gun control efforts often lurks the remnant of an old American prejudice, that the lower classes and minorities are not to be trusted with firearms. The bias originated in the post-antebellum south for political reasons and may have changed its form, but it still exists. Today the thought remains, if you let the poor, and especially the black poor, have guns, they will commit crimes with them. Even noted anti-gun activists have admitted this.
  • Even today firearms regulations target minorities or other unpopular groups. For instance, present Massachusetts law still makes possession of guns by aliens a criminal offense. Present federal statutes make it a felony for one dishonorably discharged, or having renounced American citizenship to purchase or possess a firearm. This federal statute is surely a punitive measure against those who have trespassed certain norms of acceptable behavior even though there is no indication of violent criminal tendencies. The worst abuses at present occur under the mantel of facially neutral laws that are, however, enforced in a discriminatory manner. In many jurisdictions which require a discretionary gun permit, police departments have wide discretion in issuing a permit, and those departments unfavorable to gun ownership, or to the race, politics, or appearance of a particular applicant frequently maximize obstructions to such persons while favored individuals and groups experience no difficulty in the granting of a permit. In St. Louis permits are automatically denied to wives who don't have their husband's permission, homosexuals, and non-voters. As one of my students recently learned, a personal 'interview' is now required for every St. Louis application. After many delays, he finally got to see the sheriff, who looked at him only long enough to see that he wasn't black, yelled 'he's alright' to the permit secretary, and left. Although legislatures insist that permits are necessary for a variety of reasons, such arbitrary issuance of gun licenses should not be tolerated.
  • Victimization surveys indicate that for both robbery and assaults, the crime was less likely to be completed against victims, and victims were less likely to be injured, when such victims resisted with a gun, compared to victims who did not resist. A study compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, noted that where guns or knives are used for protection by potential rape victims, the rape was completed only three percent of the time as opposed to a completion rate of thirty-two percent for rapes where no guns or knives were used by the victim. The use of firearms by civilians to defend themselves, their families and their property, against criminals is very well-known to criminals and profoundly affects criminals' behavior, often deterring them from committing certain crimes.
  • Reducing gun ownership among law-abiding citizens will do almost nothing to reduce violent crime directly, since such behavior is virtually nonexistent among persons without previous records of serious violence and criminal behavior. The assumption of many middle and upper class whites that the common murderer is the common poor and minority citizen, especially the poor black citizen, is false.
  • During the civil rights turmoil in the south, Klan violence was bad enough. It would have been worse with gun control. It was only because black neighborhoods were full of people who had guns and could fight back that the Klan didn't shoot up civil rights meetings or terrorize blacks by shooting at random from cars. Moreover, civil rights workers' access to firearms for self-defense often caused southern police to preserve the peace as they would not have done if only the Ku Kluxers had been armed.
  • The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-controlled police and military are the weapons of dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. Not for nothing was the revolver called an "equalizer." Egalite implies liberte. And always will. Let us hope our weapons are never needed — but do not forget what the common people of this nation knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny.
  • The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.
    • Warren E. Burger, former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, in Keene Sentinel, 11/26/1991.
  • [The] National Rifle Association is always arguing that the Second Amendment determines the right to bear arms. But I think it really is the people's right to bear arms in a militia. The NRA thinks it protects their right to have Teflon-coated bullets. But that's not the original understanding.
    • Robert Bork, in Miriam Bensimhorn, Advocates: Point and Counterpoint, Laurence Tribe and Robert Bork Debate the Framers' Spacious Terms, LIFE magazine, Fall 1991 (Special Issue).
  • The historical record provides compelling evidence that racism underlies gun control laws; and not in any subtle way. Throughout much of American history, gun control was openly stated as a method for keeping blacks and Hispanics 'in their place', and to quiet the racial fears of whites. This paper is intended to provide a brief summary of this unholy alliance of gun control and racism, and to suggest that gun control laws should be regarded as "suspect ideas," analogous to the 'suspect classifications' theory of discrimination already part of the American legal system. Racist arms laws predate the establishment of the United States.
  • The end of slavery in 1865 did not eliminate the problems of racist gun control laws; the various Black Codes adopted after the Civil War required blacks to obtain a license before carrying or possessing firearms or Bowie knives; these are sufficiently well-known that any reasonably complete history of the Reconstruction period mentions them. These restrictive gun laws played a part in the efforts of the Republicans to get the Fourteenth Amendment ratified, because it was difficult for night riders to generate the correct level of terror in a victim who was returning fire. It does appear, however, that the requirement to treat blacks and whites equally before the law led to the adoption of restrictive firearms laws in the south that were equal in the letter of the law, but unequally enforced. It is clear that the vagrancy statutes adopted at roughly the same time, in 1866, were intended to be used against blacks, even though the language was race-neutral. The former states of the Confederacy, many of which had recognized the right to carry arms openly before the civil war, developed a very sudden willingness to qualify that right. One especially absurd example, and one that includes strong evidence of the racist intentions behind gun control laws, is Texas.
  • The question might be asked what relevance the racist past of gun control laws has. One concern is that the motivations for disarming blacks in the past are really not so different from the motivations for disarming law-abiding citizens today. In the last century, the official rhetoric in support of such laws was that 'they' were too violent, too untrustworthy, to be allowed weapons. Today, the same elitist rhetoric regards law-abiding Americans in the same way, as child-like creatures in need of guidance from the government. In the last century, while never openly admitted, one of the goals of disarming blacks was to make them more willing to accept various forms of economic oppression, including the sharecropping system, in which free blacks were reduced to an economic state not dramatically superior to the conditions of slavery.
  • Gun control has historically been a tool of racism, and associated with racist attitudes about black violence. Similarly, many gun control laws impinge on that most fundamental of rights, self-defense. Racism is so intimately tied to the history of gun control in America that we should regard gun control aimed at law-abiding people as a 'suspect idea', and require that the courts use the same demanding standards when reviewing the constitutionality of a gun control law, that they would use with respect to a law that discriminated based on race.
  • Nothing in the history, construction, or interpretation of the Amendment applies or infers such a protection. Rather, legal protection for personal self-defense arises from the British common law tradition and modern criminal law; not from constitutional law.
    • Robert J. Spitzer, "Lost and Found: Researching the Second Amendment", Chicago Kent Law Review 76, no. 1 (2000): pp. 349-401.
  • Consider, for example, the term 'people' in the First Amendment—'Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting . . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . . . '[180] If it is hard to construe the word 'people' in the Fourth Amendment to be anything but a reference to individuals, it is equally difficult to construe the term in the First Amendment as anything but a collective right. Clearly, the idea of the people assembling contemplates a large [Page 231] number of people and not a single person assembling. Thus, linguistically, the term 'people' in the Second Amendment might be interpreted 'either way.' Standing alone, the phrase 'the right of the people to keep and bear arms' could apply to individuals or collectively to 'the people.' But, unlike the use of the word in the Fourth Amendment, the Second Amendment ties the term 'people' to a collective entity, the 'well regulated Militia' which is 'necessary to the security of a free State.' This understanding is also supported by the original wording of the Amendment, which referred to the 'body' of the people. Linguistically, the Amendment can easily be read to concern the 'body'of the people. The Amendment does not say, 'individually armed citizens, being necessary to the security of a free state . . . . ' The Amendment explicitly refers to the 'militia,' a collective organization and a specific kind of militia at that one that is 'well regulated.' It is hard to imagine individuals being 'well regulated' by the government. They are only 'regulated' as a group.
    • Paul Finkleman, "'A Well Regulated Militia': The Second Amendment in Historical Perspective", Chicago-Kent Law Review Symposium on the Second Amendment vol. 76, (2000) : 195.
  • If I've got nine slugs? Nine bullets're going to fly. If I've got a red beam? Nine people're going to die. Nine mothers gone cry; nine spirits in the sky. Nine preachers preaching nine sermons; telling nine lies.
    • Lavell Crump, as quoted in "9mm" (July 2007), by L. Crump, The Greatest Story Ever Told (July 2008).
  • Those who now prefer to see the 'right of the people to keep and bear arms' of the Second Amendment as discharged by the National Guard, however, must overlook, or explain away, the circumstance that National Guardsmen are in fact not allowed to 'keep' their arms. Weapons are kept in National Guard Armories, and Guardsmen bear them only in service, under military discipline. Nor are officers elected, as they usually were in Militias, or even in many Civil War regiments. The National Guard, like the Regular Army, is now part of the establishment of a Standing Army, which the Founders feared as a threat to freedom, they would have called it merely a 'select militia'. Even worse, the lapse of the Militia has meant that armed citizens are no longer available for the posse comitatus, where ordinary citizens become deputy sheriffs of their county to enforce the law. This means that increasingly para-military police departments, which originally were prohibited from carrying arms, have become virtual armies of occupation in American cities, vulnerable to many of the abuses practiced by any such armies.
  • Buy a gun. They hate it. As Machiavelli said, there can be no proper relation between one who is armed and one who is not. Statists know this instinctively. As I have noted, it is better that you be killed by criminals than that you should be able to defend yourself against the state. The left makes a big show of disliking the police, and I think that they do dislike actual policemen; but the existence of the police is absolutely essential to the leftist vision of political life. The SWAT teams that break into your house in the middle of the night, with a no-knock warrant, and shoot your dog, and perhaps you as well, are authorized, not just by Republican drug warriors, but by Democrat drug warriors and Democrat congresses also.
  • The best that Democrats could do with an example like Seung-Hui Cho is to try and use it to rebuild their case for 'gun control', meaning the disarming of the citizens, as in Britain. After devastating Supreme Court decisions against them, the 'gun control' movement pretty much fell into a shambles, until 2013. Nor was the Virginia Tech shooting hopeful material for rebuilding it. Incoherent laws had made it easier for Cho to buy guns, when he was not eligible to do so for psychiatric reasons. On the other hand, Virginia is a state where most citizens can get concealed carry permits. But Virginia Tech did not allow guns on campus, even for those licensed to carry them. Not even the ROTC. So Cho did not need to worry that any of his victims might shoot back. When it was proposed that a state law override the university prohibition, the university president sputtered that there might might a tragedy if guns were allowed on campus! Well, sir, the tragedy happened already. Mister Cho didn't care whether you had a prohibition or not.
  • The majority falls prey to the delusion, popular in some circles, that ordinary people are too careless and stupid to own guns, and we would be far better off leaving all weapons in the hands of professionals on the government payroll. But the simple truth, born of experience, is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people... A revolt by Nat Turner and a few dozen other armed blacks could be put down without much difficulty; one by four million armed blacks would have meant big trouble. All too many of the other great tragedies of history, Stalin's atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few, were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece, as the Militia Act required here. ... If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars.
  • In sum, we hold that the District's ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.
  • Every man, woman, and responsible child has an unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to obtain, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any weapon, rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything, any time, any place, without asking anyone's permission.
  • Any politico who's afraid of his constituents being armed, should be. Leaders of the anti-gun movement, for the most part, politicians who enthusiastically advocate confiscatory taxation and government control of everything, realize that a populace is much easier to herd, loot, and dispose of, if it has been stripped of its weapons. The naked fraud and transparent fascism of victim disarmament must be eradicated through the repeal of all gun laws at every level of government.


Misattributed[edit]

  • The beauty of the second amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.
    • Falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; first reported in Matt Carson, On A Hill They Call Capital: A Revolution Is Coming‎ (2007), p. 131. Not found prior to 2007.
  • When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.
    • Falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; first attributed to Jefferson in Gyeorgos C. Hatonn, It's All in the Game: Butterflies, Mind Control--The Razor's Edge‎ (1994), p. 214. A 1912 issue of The American Anti-socialist attributes the re-ordered form, "Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty", to John Basil Barnhill.
  • The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
    • Falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; first attributed in The Southern Partisan‎ (1992), p. 3. Not found prior to 1992; debunked in D. J. Mulloy, American Extremism: History, Politics and the Militia Movement‎ (2004), p. 115.
  • 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.
  • Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence. From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that's good.
    • Falsely attributed to George Washington in an address to Congress; first attributed in materials presented in "Waiting Period Before the Sale, Delivery, Or Transfer of a Handgun", a hearing before the United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime (1989), p. 169. Not found prior in any speech or writing of George Washington, including his very well documented speeches, prior to 1989; debunked in D. J. Mulloy, American Extremism: History, Politics and the Militia Movement‎ (2004), p. 115.

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