Gun Rights: What Did The Founders Say?

This is not intended to be a scholarly work! It is simply a context for why the right to keep and carry arms was included and a little about the debate. There was so much said on the subject (the founders liked a good argument) that I had to pare it down to a few, and I chose some of the less commonly quoted founding fathers to speak.

I suppose that the first to speak on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, should be the Constitution itself:

“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.”

There was a debate among the founders. Truly there were many debates among the founders, but this one was what brought about our second amendment.

There seemed to be little opposition to the fact that individuals should act upon their right to self defense and keep and bare arms. That was not the question.
The question which inspired this debate was the question of a standing army.

Militia and Army

Our Constitution

Many were in favor of such a body, and many were not. The chief objection was that in all cases throughout history, a standing army had been used to oppress it’s own people. The idea of the militia, variously defined even in those days was brought up and given some debate, in the end it did not seem to matter much how it was defined, but here are some of the founders ideas related to the militia:

“I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.”
– George Mason, in Debates in Virginia Convention on Ratification of the Constitution, from Elliot, Vol. 3, June 16, 1788

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts got right to the heart of the matter asking: “What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty …. 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.”

At this stage, the militia was understood to be the body of the people themselves. The militia did, at least in part, gradually evolve into a standing army, but each state continued to maintain it’s own units, and neither the standing army nor the militia ever superseded the rights of the people themselves to own weapons. In the ensuing years, militia and army were both accepted, and neither were completely trusted by the populace, who, you will recall, had just fought a war against the standing army of their own country! The distrust seems to have been built in on purpose.

A Standing Army

Noah Webster takes us back to the principle again and shows why a standing army could be built, but kept under check by the people themselves:

“Before a standing army 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 troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.”
– Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).

Knowing that many of the delegates didn’t really want a standing army. Many of the Federalists, among them; Hamilton, Madison, Adams, and Jay sought to show that it would better serve the needs of the new nation if there existed a well regulated, well armed always prepared combat force available in case of attacks from other countries. They argued that no one should fear the army, because a well armed public would always outnumber any standing army and would always posses arms of equal lethality. It seems to have not occurred to them to think otherwise

At least that was the argument then, and they were convincing enough that we ended up, eventually, with a standing army, and because of existing militias and standing armies, the second amendment was needed to ensure the people themselves the right to defense against any and all, to quote Tench Cox:

“Whereas civil-rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as 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.”
– Tench Coxe, in Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution (Using the Pseudonym `A Pennsylvanian’ in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789 at 2 col. 1)

Knowing this, to a modern reader the second amendment could be understood to read something like this:

A well regulated militia (that is a formal army) being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms (that is, the right of the people to keep and carry arms to defend against a formal military or for other self defense) shall not be infringed. (infringed means touched, it means that this right is not to be tinkered with legislated away, blocked or otherwise tampered with!)

Or:

Since an organized military is needed for the safety of the state, the right of the people to keep and carry firearms shall not be touched!

Or:

Since it is necessary to have an organized military, it is necessary that the people themselves have the right to possess arms for the purpose of defending themselves against them!

Whether one sees the militia as the citizen army, or the militia as the army makes little difference in the end. Either way, the people have the right to arms to protect themselves against tyranny from armies, militias, outsiders or all the above!

I am not sure why such plain language has caused such disagreements in the American public and politic. It seems plain and simple. I have great difficulty understand why some people thought it had something to do with hunting. This is particularly peculiar given the enormous body of information left by founders who were dealing with these issues at the start of our republic.

The founders speak on sticking to your guns

I wanted to let the people who were involved in the debate speak for themselves! There is much recorded on the subject and not all debaters, even on the same side of the issue agreed on the terminology as you will see. You can almost hear between the lines of the debate. and see the missing parts and sedgways! I propose to let them argue it out in your mind, and allow you the opportunity Here are just a few more genuine quotes from founders of our Republic regarding the second amendment:

  • “…if raised, whether they could subdue a Nation of freemen, who know how to prize liberty, and who have arms in their hands?”
    — Delegate Sedgwick, during the Massachusetts Convention, rhetorically asking if an oppressive standing army could prevail, Johnathan Elliot, ed., Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol.2 at 97 (2d ed., 1888)
  • “As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people 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.” Tench Coxe, in `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 at 2 col. 1).
  • “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, A View of the Constitution 125-6 (2nd ed. 1829)
  • “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.” George Mason, in Debates in Virginia Convention on Ratification of the Constitution, Elliot, Vol. 3, June 16, 1788
  • “Whereas civil-rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as 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.” Tench Coxe, in Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution
  • “The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.” Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-188
  • If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual State. In a single State, if the persons entrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair. Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 28
  • “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 … ” Samuel Adams, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at 86-87 (Pierce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850)
  • “[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 Papers, No. 46
  • “Before a standing army 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 troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.” Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia 1787).
  • “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…[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.” Tenche Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
  • “Whereas, 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.” Richard Henry Lee, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
  • “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787. ME 6:373, Papers 12:356
  • “No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Thomas Jefferson, Proposal Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334,[C.J. Boyd, Ed., 1950]
  • “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 …” James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434, June 8, 1789
  • “What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty …. 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.” Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, spoken during floor debate over the Second Amendment, I Annals of Congress at 750, August 17, 1789
  • ” … to disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 380
  • ” … but 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 use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights …” Alexander Hamilton speaking of standing armies in Federalist 29
  • “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?” Patrick Henry, 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836
  • “The great object is, that every man be armed … Every one who is able may have a gun.” Patrick Henry, Elliot, p.3:386
  • “O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms, wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone …” Patrick Henry, Elliot p. 3:50-53, in Virginia Ratifying Convention demanding a guarantee of the right to bear arms
  • “The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.” Zachariah Johnson, delegate to Virginia Ratifying Convention, Elliot, 3:645-6

Trump Had Less Than One Quarter Of The Vote!

It is time to inject a little honesty into the discussion regarding presidential popularity. Nobody really wants to bring this up, but it needs to be done.

Why did Donald Trump win the presidential election given his extreme lack of popularity? Put a different way, why is Donald Trump so unpopular even among the voters of his own party and suffer such powerful resistance from the rank and file true conservative movement?

It is really pretty simple, and it does not require a brain surgeon (apologies to Ben Carson) to figure out why!

Let’s do the numbers or at least the percentages:

Bad Choices

Because the choices were so bad this election, millions stayed away from the polls just to be able to say that they did not vote for either of these losers.

Slightly more than 40% stayed at home! Only 60% of registered voters turned out to vote, and fewer than half of those voted for Donald Trump!

Half Of His Voters Despised Him (and still do)

Of that number, more than half claimed to be voting for him because he was the least bad of the two candidates they felt they could vote for without “losing” their vote.

Trump Got Less Than 1/4 Of The Registered Votes!

What we are seeing here is that less than 1/4 of the voting public really wanted to see Donald Trump in the Whitehouse!

Now, if only 60% of registered voters turned out to vote because the choices were so excruciatingly bad, and if the number of votes cast for you is less than half of the number of people who voted, and if half of the people who voted for you voted for you because you were the least bad of the two excruciatingly bad choices they felt they had, you did not have a majority of voters behind you, in fact, you did not even have a plurality!

I Bet You Are Not Conservative!

I bet you are not conservative!

I Bet You Are Not Conservative!

How to know if you are a Conservative:

1. If you seek to limit free speech, free press, free assembly, or freedom of religion, you are not conservative.

2. If you seek to restrict the right to keep and bear arms, you are not conservative.
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3. If you want to have soldiers quartered in private homes by force in time of peace, you are not a conservative.

4. If you seek to search and take property without a specific and detailed warrant from a judge, you are not conservative.

5. If you seek limit due process or the right to avoid self-incrimination or restrict an individual’s right to fair bail, and just compensation for private property taken for public use, you are not conservative!

6. If you try to restrict the right to a speedy and public trial by jury, the right for the accused to confront witnesses against him, the ability of the accused to call his own witnesses and have legal counsel for criminal or civil cases, you are not a conservative.

7. If you seek to restrict law suits by restricting a person;s right to trial by jury, you are not conservative.

8. If you think that excessive bail and cruel or unusual punishment are okay, then you are not conservative.

9. If you put the rights of the federal government ahead of the rights of the individual, you are not conservative!

10. If you put the rights of the federal government ahead of the rights of the individual state, you are not conservative!

From: ajeffersonian.com

Please Note:
I allowed the publication of my notes on the Bill of Rights from the post “What Is A Conservative” and it caught a little traction, so I thought I would publish it here as a separate article for those who might like a simple version for one reason or another. Please do read the entire article for a more complete take on the subject. Please feel free to copy and paste this simple test of conservative principles to your favorite social media outlet, and if possible, leave a link back to the parent site so other people can understand what a real conservative is! Thanks!

What Is A Conservative? How To Know If You Are A Conservative!

What Is A Conservative? How To Know If You Are A Conservative!

So, what is a conservative? There are a lot of different definitions of conservative most of them rely on one person or another as the model. This, in the end, is not a workable solution since all such opinions differ.

What is a conservative? Human models:

There is the Reagan type conservative, and then the Buckley like conservative, and the Trump type conservative, which I do not believe to be conservative at all.

As an example of the variation: Goldwater was the model for the Reagan style of conservative thought, which according to Reagan was more Libertarian than anything else. This brand of conservative thinking did not go well with William Buckley who founded National Review.

Religious and authoritarian conservative models:

There are religious conservatives from the religious right which was once known as the silent majority, and there are those who make the central point of their conservative thought the control of society by law and order and authoritarianism! There are all sorts of variations, but none of them answer the real question of what is conservative!

Models from the old world conservatives:

I want to be clear that I am not talking about conservative in the British sense. I am not trying to promote a monarchy or establish or maintain an elite as is the habit of some. I am talking about a truly American style conservatism which is almost the exact opposite!

A method for determining who is a conservative

So, what method or standard is in place to measure whether or not a particular idea or the ideas of a particular person are in fact conservative? If I say someone is a social conservative, that brings out both the best and the worst of people and ideas! If I speak of fiscal conservatives, the same sort of issues arise! What is the measure of this thing we call conservative? Well, it turns out we have had a good measure of such ideas and thoughts for around 240 years at the time of this talk. It is our Constitution! The definition of conservative is one who holds to the beliefs laid out in the Constitution! Constitutional thought is that thought which corresponds to the U.S. Constitution.

Constitutional conservatives

I submit this one idea to you as the great and truly conservative and truly American definition for conservatives and conservative thinking! Brace yourselves, because this is not going to be pleasant for many in supposedly conservative circles! It is the whole Constitution!

The majority of the Constitution simply deals with the 3 branches of government, and the restrictions placed on government and the manner in which the government is intended to operate. In other words, it is the operator manual of our republic. The first 10 amendments are known as the Bill Of Rights and they enumerate a set of rights of the people and restrictions on government. Those who seek to abide by these rights and restrictions are those who are preserving our Constitutional heritage are those who are by definition, conservatives!

What is a conservative? Let the Bill of Rights tell us:

The first 10 amendments are known as the Bill Of Rights and they enumerate a set of rights of the people and restrictions on government. Those who seek to abide by these rights and restrictions are those who are preserving our Constitutional heritage are those who are by definition, conservatives! Conversely, those who seek to restrict these rights, or seek to increase government control beyond these limitations are not conservatives!

How to know if you are a conservative

The Bill Of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

If you seek to limit free speech, free press, free assembly, or freedom of religion, you are not conservative.

Amendment II

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.

If you seek to restrict the right to keep and bear arms, you are not conservative.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
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If you want to have soldiers quartered in private homes by force in time of peace, you are not a conservative.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

If you seek to search and take property without a specific and detailed warrant from a judge, you are not conservative.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

If you seek limit due process or the right to avoid self-incrimination or restrict an individual’s right to fair bail, and just compensation for private property taken for public use, you are not conservative!

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

If you try to restrict the right to a speedy and public trial by jury, the right for the accused to confront witnesses against him, the ability of the accused to call his own witnesses and have legal counsel for criminal or civil cases, you are not a conservative.

Amendment VII

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

If you seek to restrict law suits by restricting a person;s right to trial by jury, you are not conservative.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

If you think that excessive bail and cruel or unusual punishment are okay, then you are not conservative.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

If you put the rights of the federal government ahead of the rights of the individual, you are not conservative!

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

If you put the rights of the federal government ahead of the rights of the individual state, you are not conservative!

In conclusion

So, there you have it, a definition of what is conservative and what is not based on our Republic’s founding document. I know that many of you will have problems with one or another of these points, but it is true and solid.

In reality, there are degrees of conservatism and the Constitution is the compass by which we can determine the rightness or the wrongness of an idea or a person.

The Constitution: How to know if you are a conservative!

DACA Dreamers: Modern Conservative Immigration Policy

DACA Dreamers: Modern Conservative Immigration Policy

DACA Dreamers are being used as pawns in a game of political chess. Today’s “conservatives have abandoned free markets and open borders in favor of authoritarianism and protectionism, neither of which are truly conservative, but being “tuff on crime” is easier than dealing with the real problem!

Real conservatives favor open borders

Real conservatives, let’s use Reagan as an example, did not make many of the distinctions that today’s “conservatives” make regarding legal and illegal immigration, and they favored (real conservatives still do) open borders and open markets.

Open borders and reverse immigration

This doctrine led to a gradual reduction in both types of immigration over the years since. Such policies along with NAFTA increased the numbers of jobs in Mexico which decreased the number of border crossings into this country to the point that by 2014 or 2015 we had achieved reverse immigration. Then some fool started talking about building a wall! The trend reversed almost immediately!

DACA Moral and Financial basis

The 800,000 or so young people affected by the DACA decision were brought here, mostly during a time of transition, have been here most of their lives, see this as their home, and use very little public assistance. They commit less crime than the average American at that age and have been training in jobs in which we need the talent. Most were brought here with no say in the matter. For those reasons, it is morally, and financially ridiculous to deport them.

DACA Constitutional basis

From a Constitutional perspective, (I do not care what sort of racism and xenophobia have occurred since in the name of law and order) There is NO constitutional criteria that would put the feds in charge of our borders and immigration for that matter!

The once and future DACA

DACA was an overstep by the Obama administration, just as we have many oversteps by the current administration, and does need to be fixed. That being said, the fix is to pass the Durban Graham bill into law, which effectively makes DACA a permanent fixture in immigration law, while also solving many other issues.

This is what Donald Trump alluded to in his speech announcing the end of DACA. He wants, oddly enough, to see DACA become law under the Dreamer legislation, and has said in at least one tweet that he will bring it back by executive order if need be. This is a wise move, but one that is confusing his followers, at least those who were paying attention!

The oddest of the twisted oddities in this strange game of twister is that the Trump followers, those who are awake are having to choose between Trump’s shift in immigration policy over the DACA Dreamers, or admitting that he has changed his position and getting out of the game because Trump is doing one of only two conservative things he has done since being in office!

What a real conservative believes about open border and immigration!

A look at issues from the perspective of liberty!