Words from the Framers of the Constitution on Gun Rights

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. 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.” -Thomas Jefferson, proposed Virginia constitution, June 1776. Thomas Jefferson Papers, 334 (C. J. Boyd, Ed., 1950)

“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 prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” -Thomas Jefferson, quoting 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria in “On Crimes and Punishment”, 1764, pp 87-88.

“When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny” – Thomas Jefferson

“The Constitution of most of our states, and the United States, assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves: 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.” -Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Virginia Constitution, 1776

“Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life, secondly to liberty, thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.” -Samuel Adams

“The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” -Samuel Adams, During the Massachusetts U.S. Constitution ratification convention, 1788

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” -Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), reply of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the governor, November 11, 1755

“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, An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (1787) in Pamphlets to the Constitution of the United States (P. Ford, 1888).

“Arms in the hands of citizens may be used at the individual discretion, in private self-defense.” -John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787-88

“The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.” -Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-8

“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 people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.” -Richard Henry Lee, Initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights. Additional Letters From the Federal Farmer 53, 1788

“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 ruined. The great object is that every man be armed. Every man who is able may have a gun.” -Patrick Henry, During Virginia’s ratification convention, 1788

“The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” -James Madison, The Federalist No. 46

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of people, trained in arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.” -James Madison, I Annuals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789)

“I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” -George Mason, during Virginia’s ratification convention, June 4, 1788 (From J. Elliott, Debates in the General State Conventions 425 (3rd ed. 1937).

“Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived the use of them.”  -Thomas Paine, Thoughts on Defensive War, 1775

“A free people ought to be armed. When firearms go, all goes, we need them by the hour. Firearms stand next to importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence.” -George Washington, Boston Independence Chronicle, January 14, 1790

“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 is good.” -George Washington

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