On the Right to Keep and Bear Arms

"He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." --Jesus of Nazareth in Luke 22:36

Founders

George Washington:

"A free people ought...to be armed. ... The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference -- they deserve a place of honor with all that's good."

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."

"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." --Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishment --Thomas Jefferson in Commonplace Book

"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 your constant companion of your walks.

"One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them."

"No man shall ever be debarred the use of arms..."

"The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; ...that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed."

"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."

"Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state."

James Madison:

"Americans need never fear their government because of the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation."

"The right of the people to keep and bear... arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country..."

"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 in 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. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it."

Thomas Paine:

"The supposed quietude of a good mans allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the 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..."

"From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms! Through the land let the sound of it flee; Let the far and the near all unite, with a cheer, In defense of our Liberty Tree."

Samuel Adams:

"That the said Constitution shall never be 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..."

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Patrick Henry:

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

“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. Everyone who is able might have a gun.”

"The militia is our ultimate safety. We can have no security without it."

"Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our 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?"

George Mason:

"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."

"[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, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia.

Tench Coxe:

"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."

“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."

"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."

Noah Webster:

"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 band of regular troops."

"Before a standing army or a tyrannical government can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in 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 band of regular (or professional) troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States."

Other Founders and Founding Era Sources:

"Those that can give up essential liberty to gain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." --Benjamin Franklin

"Of the liberty of conscience in matters of religious faith, of speech and of the press; of the trial by jury of the vicinage in civil and criminal cases; of the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; of the right to keep and bear arms.... If these rights are well defined, and secured against encroachment, it is impossible that government should ever degenerate into tyranny." --James Monroe

"Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion for the defence of the country, the over-throw of tyranny, or in private self-defense." --John Adams

"The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed." --Alexander Hamilton

"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

"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

"This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty . . . . 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. ... 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." --St. George Tucker

"The right of the people to keep and bear arms has been recognized by the General Government; but the best security of that right after all is, the military spirit, that taste for martial exercises, which has always distinguished the free citizens of these States....Such men form the best barrier to the liberties of America" --Gazette of the United States

"The rights of conscience, of bearing arms, of changing the government, are declared to be inherent in the people." --Fisher Ames

"Free men have arms; slaves do not." --William Blackstone

"The prohibition is general. No clause in the Constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to Congress a power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretense by a state legislature. But if in any blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both." --William Rawle

"To trust arms in the hands of the people at large has, in Europe, been believed...to be an experiment fraught only with danger. Here by a long trial it has been proved to be perfectly harmless.. If the government be equitable; if it be reasonable in its exactions; if proper attention be paid to the education of children in knowledge and religion, few men will be disposed to use arms, unless for their amusement, and for the defence of themselves and their country." --Timothy Dwight

"[W]hereas, 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; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it. --Antifederalist Letter, No.18

"Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? It is 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...[T]he 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

"If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I never would lay down my arms -- never -- never -- never!" --William Pitt

"[T]he people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them. --Zacharia Johnson

"The whole of that Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals... [I]t establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of. --Albert Gallatin

Historic Quotes on Self Defense

"Both the oligarch and Tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of arms."--Aristotle

"Those, who have the command of the arms in a country are masters of the state, and have it in their power to make what revolutions they please. [Thus,] there is no end to observations on the difference between the measures likely to be pursued by a minister backed by a standing army, and those of a court awed by the fear of an armed people." --Aristotle

"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws."--Tacitus

"Quemadmoeum gladuis neminem occidit, occidentis telum est." --(A sword is never a killer, it is a tool in the killers hands.) --Lucius Annaeus Seneca

"False is the idea of utility that sacrifices a thousand real advantages for one imaginary or trifling inconvenience; that would take fire from men because it burns, and water because one may drown in it; that has no remedy for evils except destruction. The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Can it be supposed that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, the most important of the code, will respect the less important and arbitrary ones, which can be violated with ease and impunity, and which, if strictly obeyed, would put an end to personal liberty ... and subject innocent persons to all the vexations that the guilty alone ought to suffer? 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." --Cesare Beccaria

"No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the people. The possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave. He, who has nothing, and who himself belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property he is, and needs no arms. But he, who thinks he is his own master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives precariously, and at discretion." --James Burgh

"You are bound to meet misfortune if you are unarmed because, among other reasons, people despise you... There is simply no comparison between a man who is armed and one who is not. It is unreasonable to expect that an armed man should obey one who is unarmed, or that an unarmed man should remain safe and secure when his servants are armed. In the latter case, there will be suspicion on the one hand and contempt on the other, making cooperation impossible." --Niccolo Machiavelli

"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." --Mahatma Gandhi

Contemporary 2A Observations

"Nowhere else in the Constitution does a 'right' attributed to 'the people' refer to anything other than an individual right. What is more, in all six other provisions of the Constitution that mention 'the people,' the term unambiguously refers to all members of the political community, not an unspecified subset... The Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms... The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it ‘shall not be infringed.'" --Justice Antonin Scalia

"Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Castro, Pol Pot, all these monsters began by confiscating private arms, then literally soaking the earth with the blood of tens and tens of millions of their people. ... There can be no free speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest, no freedom to worship your god, no freedom to speak your mind, no freedom from fear, no freedom for your children and for theirs, for anybody, anywhere, without the Second Amendment freedom to fight for it." --Charlton Heston

"It's a nasty truth, but those who seek to inflict harm are not fazed by gun controllers. I happen to know this from personal experience. ... You won't get gun control by disarming law-abiding citizens. There's only one way to get real gun control: Disarm the thugs and the criminals, lock them up, and if you don't actually throw away the key, at least lose is for a long time." --Ronald Reagan

"When the history of the 20th century is finally written, one of its key features will be the wanton slaughter of more than 170 million people, not in war, but by their own government. The governments that led in this slaughter are the former USSR (65 million) and the Peoples Republic of China (35-40 million). The point to remember is that these governments were the idols of America's leftists. Part of reason for these and other tyrannical successes was because the people were first disarmed. --Walter E. Williams

"As the death toll mounts -- as many as 25 million in the former Soviet Union, 65 million in China, 1.7 million in Cambodia, and on and on -- the authors systematically show how and why, wherever the millenarian ideology of Communism was established, it quickly led to crime, terror, and repression. An extraordinary accounting, this book amply documents the unparalleled position and significance of Communism in the hierarchy of violence that is the history of the twentieth century." --Harvard University Press review of The Black Book of Communism

"Any unarmed people are slaves, or are subject to slavery at any given moment. If the guns are taken out of the hands of the people and only the pigs have guns, then it's off to the concentration camps, the gas chambers, or whatever the fascists in America come up with. One of the democratic rights of the United States, the Second Amendment to the Constitution, gives the people the right to bear arms. However, there is a greater right; the right of human dignity that gives all men the right to defend themselves." --Huey P. Newton

"But to ban guns because criminals use them is to tell the innocent and law-abiding that their rights and liberties depend not on their own conduct, but on the conduct of the guilty and the lawless, and that the law will permit them to have only such rights and liberties as the lawless will allow. ... For society does not control crime, ever, by forcing the law-abiding to accommodate themselves to the expected behavior of criminals. Society controls crime by forcing the criminals to accommodate themselves to the expected behavior of the law-abiding." --Jeff Snyder

"This manual of the Communist Party should be in the hands of every loyal American, that they may be alerted to the fact that it is not always by armies and guns that a nation is conquered." --Kenneth Goff

"[Individual disarmament] palsies the hand and brutalizes the mind; an habitual disuse of physical force totally destroys the moral; and men lose at once the power of protecting themselves, and of discerning the cause of their oppression." --Joel Barlow

"Of course, the proponents of political tyranny are usually well-motivated. Those who enacted the gun-registration law in California point to criminals who have used semiautomatic weapons to commit horrible, murderous acts. But the illusion -- the pipe dream -- is that bad acts can be prevented by the deprivation of liberty. They cannot be! Life is always insecure. The only choice is between liberty and insecurity, on the one hand, and insecurity and enslavement on the other. The true patriot scrutinizes the actions of his own government with unceasing vigilance. And when his government violates the morality and rightness associated with principles of individual freedom and private property, he immediately rises in opposition to his government." --Jacob G. Hornberger

"After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military." --William S. Burroughs

"When a government controls both the economic power of individuals and the coercive power of the state ... this violates a fundamental rule of happy living: Never let the people with all the money and the people with all the guns be the same people." --P. J. O'Rourke

"An armed society is a polite society." --Robert Heinlein

The Gun Confiscators

"Only the Soviets can effectively arm the proletariat and disarm the bourgeoisie. Unless this is done, the victory of socialism is impossible. ... One man with a gun can control 100 without one. ... A system of licensing and registration is the perfect device to deny gun ownership to the bourgeoisie." --Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

"[To insure quick Communist victory in civil warfare, there] "arises the necessity of disarming the bourgeoisie and arming the workers, of creating a Communist army..." --Leon Trotsky

"If the opposition (citizen) disarms, well and good. If it refuses to disarm, we shall disarm it ourselves." --Joseph Stalin

"Germans who wish to use firearms should join the SS or the SA. Ordinary citizens don't need guns, as their having guns doesn't serve the State." --Heinrich Himmler

"The measures adopted to restore public order are: First of all, the elimination of the so-called subversive elements. ... They were elements of disorder and subversion. On the morrow of each conflict I gave the categorical order to confiscate the largest possible number of weapons of every sort and kind. This confiscation, which continues with the utmost energy, has given satisfactory results." --Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator during WW2

"This year will go down in history! For the first time a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead in the future! ... The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to permit the conquered Eastern peoples to have arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so." --Adolf Hitler

"Government begins at the end of the gun barrel." --Chaiman Mao

"Waiting periods are only a step. Registration is only a step. The prohibition of private firearms is the goal." --Janet Reno

"Banning guns addresses a fundamental right of all Americans to feel safe." --Sen. Dianne Feinstein

"We're bending the law as far as we can to ban an entirely new class of guns." --Rahm Emmanuel