THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS
>Mr. Coates, Thank you for replying to my e-mail. I did not mean to insult >you, so I apologize if you took something I said the wrong way. You are >correct in that my e-mail to you is largely due to a oversight on my part. There isn't a lot that Jefferson wrote on the right to bear arms, but I have included everything that I have run across so far. I think most persons would feel insulted if they were trying to present Jefferson's views on politics and government, and they were then accused of deliberately omitting things in order to make it meet their own agenda. Of course, many times someone's ANALYSIS of Jefferson's writings turns out that way. But on my main website, I am not trying to analyze Jefferson, but rather I am trying to present HIS ideas. >I did not discover your other web pages with the information I was seeking >until AFTER I had e-mailed you. I didn't have time to do more than print >and quickly scan your writings on the subject of the 2nd Amendment, Gun >Control, etc., but I will sit down at my earliest convenience and read them >thoroughly. After that, I would like to write you back with some of my >thoughts on the subject, if you don't mind. One thing that I often see, >and it appears you believe also, is that most people seem to think that the >word "regulated" in the 2nd Amendment means controlled and/or overseen by >the government. I read once that the term "well regulated", in the context >of the times it was written, actually mean't "well TRAINED". What do you >think about this? Well trained and well disciplined would seem to be the meaning of a "well regulated militia." Controlled or overseen, perhaps, by the military officers, might also be part of the meaning. But governed by the central federal government is definitely not the meaning. >By the way, I assume you are from, or at least live in, or near >Charlottesville, Va. Actually, I am not. I was once the librarian for a small college in Virginia, and then a supervisor at the Library of Congress. But I am not really associated with UVa other than to have my website located at their Electronic Text Center. >A millionaire named Thomas Fortune >Ryan built what was once a 8000 acre estate, in fact, almost a >self-contained town. The land had been sold off over the years to about >5000 acres when another gentleman bought the property about 10 years ago (I >think). He is fixing it up and was allowing tours through the mansion at >certain times of the year (for a nominal fee). I know this may be out of >your realm of interest, but I am interested enough about it to wonder if a >book has been published on the Ryans and this estate. Have you ever heard >of it? I have not heard of it, but if the site has historical interest, I would be surprised if someone has NOT written a book about it. You might try going to the UVa library (online) and running the name, Thomas Fortune Ryan, through their online catalog. If there has been anything written, they most likely would have it. >There is another mansion-of-sorts not too far from my farm that, >unlike Oakridge, dates from Colonial times (as I have heard tell many times >in the past). It would be interesting to find out the history of that as >well. Additionally, there is an old mill along Rucker's Run at the base of >Turner mountain, that the roof recently caved-in on, that was called >Variety Mills - another site that would be interesting to find out about. >Life is too short, huh? Indeed it is! I have all kinds of projects that it looks like I will never be able to get to.
The Right to Bear Arms
In a nation governed by the people themselves, the possession of arms to defend their nation against usurpers within and without was deemed absolutely necessary. This right was protected by the 2nd Amendment.
"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." -- Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824.
"One loves to possess arms, though they hope never to have occasion for them." --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1796. ME 9:341
"I learn with great concern that [one] portion of our frontier so interesting, so important, and so exposed, should be so entirely unprovided with common fire-arms. I did not suppose any part of the United States so destitute of what is considered as among the first necessaries of a farm-house." --Thomas Jefferson to Jacob J. Brown, 1808. ME 11:432
"No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms (within his own lands or tenements)." --Thomas Jefferson: Draft Virginia Constitution (with his note added), 1776. Papers, 1:353
"None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important." --Thomas Jefferson to -----, 1803. ME 10:365
> Thanks for your reply and no problem about the time, i'm sure you get > plenty of mail from folks who visit your thought-provoking site. I am very > agreeable to having your friend look at my thoughts on gun control. It's > good to see that there are still a few open-minded people left in this > increasingly and bitterly partisan nation. Please forgive the delay. My friend sent his reply to me, and I am including relevant portions of his emails below: I'm afraid I tend to agree with Mr. Gray. His facts are correct as far as I can verify them. The amount of crimes actually committed by assault weapons may vary slightly according to various figures, but he is at least quite close. Although I am against citizens owning machine guns, grenades and the like, I don't now believe the assault weapon ban was wise, or even Constitutional. I have in the past had some fear of what they can do in the hands of gangs, or perhaps a loony like the fellow involved in the Kileen Texas Luby's massacre. However, even in that instance, had a woman who lost her parents there, been carrying her own pistol, she could have stopped that man well before he wasted her parents at least. She did not do so because she feared the laws against carrying handguns. She now wishes she'd disobeyed the law, of course. Anyhow, the man is right about the ambiguity of the law in the first place. Until recently, I owned a semi-automatic 22 caliber pistol that held 100 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. That pistol could fire them off as fast as I could pull the trigger! In the right hands (or wrong ones), that would certainly qualify as an assault weapon despite the small caliber. I traded it to a fellow for work in building a deck outside of my apartment which is attached to my Mom's trailer. I couldn't really use the pistol in my condition anyhow. I personally keep a 357 Smith and Wesson revolver, with a four inch barrel for my personal protection. In most cases, what I told you is true or at least, I still hold to it. A pistol is a far superior weapon in most cases, for personal protection, than an assault weapon. Not only that, as the statistics I am sending you will verify, they are used far more often in homicides, cop-killings, and other forms of crime due to their concealability, and the speed and efficiency in which they can be brought into action. There are instances where the assault rifle or shotgun is more effective depending upon the situation of course. But it is my opinion, nevertheless, that the assault weapons ban was in actuality, a "foot-in-the-door" type of legislation. The gangs can still get them, and larger ammunition clips can be easily manufactured in any back-yard machine shop. That holds true for many hunting rifles and shotguns as well, which when used in this manner, become fearsome, assault weapons. Just as the gangs can obtain drugs, they can also obtain AR15s or AK47s manufactured in Asia and shipped over here illegally. No Brady Bill or anti-weapons ban has yet been able to prevent this. I don't like the idea that they are better armed than we are allowed to be, or at least potentially so. The government needs to find laws that truly affect these people rather than the average citizen, in my opinion. Nevertheless, concerning writing your friend, I can see little there that I would argue with. Although he might disagree with me and say that it is unconstitutional, I do however feel that some sort of licensing or preventive measures need to be taken to help insure that these type weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. A known felon, wife beater, drug addict, alcoholic, or person with known mental disorders for instance. There is no way of effectively screening all potential psychos out, but there needs to be a way to stop some of them. However, I can see the danger of laws being passed, obstensibly for just such reasons, which in actuality, are merely steps toward total gun control. As I told you before, if people would simply be honest, I am sure that reasonable people, could come up with reasonable safeguards, which still protect the rights guaranteed by the second amendment. But the hardcore people in both organizations such as the NRA and HCI, will not listen to reason. The worse society deteriorates, the greater the demand for gun bans will become, and likewise, the greater the need for the average hard-working citizen to carry one for self defense. Its a vicious circle.
Although I will always stand up for the right of individuals to own guns, often, when the arguments are brought out, the old west, or America in its early years, are brought up. The need for hunting, defending against Indians or renegades--etc. Guns were, necessary, and rugged individualism, was often equated with the use and ownership of them. Well, now days, many times, the question of the opinion of law enforcement officers as to the ownership of guns, is brought into play. Speaking of some rugged individualists who were into law enforcement, in the "good old days" of the west, well, how about Wyatt Earp or Wild Bill Hickock?" You probably already know this but in case you didn't, I thought I'd offer it. Both of the above mentioned lawmen, and many like them, were involved in some of their greatest gun-battles, in the attempt to enforce laws that banned guns in their various city limits-- be that city, a silver boomtown (Wyatt, OK Corral), or a cattle railhead (Abilene or Dodge, Kansas, both Earp and Hickock). Most of the citizens in each of the towns, were aware of the 2nd amendment. So were the above mentioned officers. Yet, the problem of drunken miners or cowboys with weapons, compelled them to attempt to adopt measures to protect themselves. The OK Corral gunfight, in Tombstone, was precipitated by the fact that some of the cowboy faction were openly carrying firearms, in a deliberate challenge to the Earps (who were dead against the carrying of weapons in the city limits, and insisted upon the ordinance. ) Of course, the bottom line reasons for that fight went much deeper than that, but the points I was trying to make, that perhaps you might find useful is that, although the personal integrity of the participants, the Earps in particular, might be questionable, they were policemen. They were also known as "peacemakers," or "town tamers." Well, the first order of business to taming a town was to have folks check their guns in upon their arrival. No guns carried within city limits. The folks still owned their guns, and could claim them at any time they wished to leave. But knowing the explosive nature of certain groups or factions. most of the famed lawmen were all for "gun control." Last time I wrote you, I took the position from the other side. Ultimately, that is my position. Nevertheless. it is an imperfect position at best. I didn't want to admit to weaknesses on my side, but they are there. I wish there was an easy "fundamental" (he he,
) answer, but I have yet to find one. Even though you probably already knew this, I thought maybe it hadn't crossed your mind recently that if you thought on it, you might be able to come up with a reasonable, maybe even "workable," solution. Who knows?
I hope the above furnishes you with some of the information you were wanting to verify. Best wishes, Eyler Coates
>If, as you say, the Second Amendment was intended to allow the states to >have militias, then why does it refer to _the people_ having the right to >keep and bear arms? Mainly because it is the people who must constitute the militia. The organization of society was much more informal in those days, and the people, in general, *were* the militia. But it is a good point: it is not a right of the States to arm their people, but a right of the people to arm themselves. >The writers of the Bill of Rights were not stupid, and >every court decision on similarly worded amendments has clearly said that >the words "the people" mean just what they say---the people in general. >Not state governments, not local governments. The people. That is a good point, too, if I read you correctly. In other words, reading the 2nd Amendment along with the 10th, the right to keep and bear arms could be read as a power reserved to the people themselves, which is neither "delegated to the United States by the Constitution," nor is it "reserved to the States." And this is essentially correct, I believe. The people possessing arms, given the informality of the organization of militias, would mean that the people could throw together a militia organization *as needed* in order to protect themselves. Therefore, the right to keep and bear arms is a "people's" right. Given that, I would agree with you that the article needs correction in a few spots, especially the statment "Presumably, the states themselves could regulate or even ban the possession of firearms under the Second Amendment if they so chose, though no one would expect them to ban them outright." I will make those revisions ASAP. >We already _have_ laws forbidding felons (although I disagree with the >definition of felony vs. misdemeanor here; that could be the subject of an >essay sometime in and of itself) to possess or purchase firearms; we >already have laws forbidding children (however defined) to carry firearms >or use them outside of adult supervision; we already have laws forbidding >the mentally impaired from possessing or using firearms. Would it be too >much to ask that the laws we already have in place be enforced, rather than >writing a bunch of new ones? I tend to agree. The only thing that may be needed is an amendment to the laws fixing more precisely parental responsibility for children under their supervision who misuse firearms. But outside of that, we probably have all the laws we need, and only need enforce the laws we have.
>> Having said all that, I still have a problem with changing the last >> paragraph of that section (now with slight revisions): >> >> "It may be that the Second Amendment needs to be re-written. The real >> protection afforded by >> the Second Amendment was for the people of a state to have the arms >> necessary to form a >> militia and to defend themselves against any threats to their peace and >> security. That purpose is >> a little out of date today. We do not have armed militias consisting of >> free citizens who can be >> called upon to defend their homeland. The kinds of weaponry have changed >in >> the last 200 >> years, and it serves no rational purpose for ordinary citizens to have >> certain kinds of automatic >> weapons, if they are not going to be a part of a militia. Semiautomatic >> handguns in the hands of >> individual citizens, such as were used at Columbine High School, >therefore >> serve no useful and necessary purpose for civil defense. The whole >concept >> of the right of a citizen to possess firearms needs to be reconsidered, >> redefined, and asserted anew." >> >> I would be interested in your specific response to that paragraph. >> >Very well, here goes. Firstly, I am of the very strong opinion that we >would be much better off with something like the Swiss or Israeli >systems---a small professional cadre backed up by most of the population >being trained, armed (yes, even with fully automatic weapons---the Swiss >and Israelis both do this) and able to come to the colors when the U.S. >itself is threatened. The problem with a large standing army of the sort >we've had since 1945 is that it poses a standing temptation for politicians >to take it and go out adventuring. I would agree. Especially the last sentence. One of the advantages cited for the Gulf War was that it enabled the military to test in real battle conditions some new weapons which had been added to the arsenal. But Jefferson believed that every college student should have military training, and that a citizen militia was the best and safest means of security for the nation. >Secondly, private citizens _do_ often have need of semi-automatic >weaponry---which, incidentally, has been around for over a hundred years (I >own a clone of the 1896 Mauser "Broomhandle" pistol, the first practical >semi-automatic pistol) and is no more deadly or capable of throwing lots of >lead than the venerable lever-action rifle (think the Winchester, or, for >that matter, the Civil War-era Spencer or Henry rifles) or a good >bolt-action rifle in the hands of someone who's had a chance to practice >with it. If _you_ were, oh, say, a Korean shopkeeper in Los Angeles, and >the Rodney King verdict riots were going off all around you, you'd probably >do as a lot of the real ones did...defend your property and livelihood with >whatever you had on hand, and if someone offered you a semi- automatic >rifle, you'd thank that person profusely. In general, the less popular you >are, the more reasons exist for you to need a semi-automatic rifle in the >event of trouble. This is arguable, but none the less a respectable point. A person under attack would always have an advantage with a higher level of weaponry. Perhaps it becomes a matter of weighing the occasions for that advantage against the occasions when it is misused, and striking some kind of reasonable balance. > The "Deacons of Defense and Justice" formed NRA-sanctioned rifle clubs in >the South during the Civil Rights struggle, and let it be known that >attempted armed assaults by the Klan or similar groups would be met with >gunfire. This was one of the things that kept the KKK from doing a lot >more violent things than they actually did. I was not familiar with the "Deacons of Defense and Justice." Perhaps it approaches vigilantism (which is still better than no protection at all), but in some situations, it might well be justified. Since the lawful authorities supported the KKK, the formation of citizen groups to oppose them seems like the only alternative, under the circumstances. >Semi-automatic weapons, or "assault weapons," as they are often incorrectly >called, have been demonized by the news media in the last decade or so >beyond anything they actually deserved. The media cleverly plays on the >average citizen's confusion between "semi-automatic" (fires once per pull >of the trigger) and "full automatic" (fires as long as the trigger is held >down and there's ammunition---a machine gun, in other words) to whip the >average person up against them evil "assault weapons." I am not a gun-buff, but I seem to recall from somewhere that some semi-automatic weapons can fairly easily be converted to automatic. > For that matter, >"assault weapon" is a neologism created by the media, referring to whatever >they don't happen to like, if it happens to look like a military weapon. >Some of the attempted legal definitions of "assault weapon" would apply to >my World War One Luger, or that Broomhandle Mauser I was talking about >above. The correct term used by the military is "assault _rifle,_" and >this refers to a weapon capable of firing fully-automatic, such as the >military version of the AK-47 or the M-16. These have been almost >completely illegal for ordinary citizens since the 1930s. > >Finally, we _are_ part of the militia, by Federal law. Under Federal law, >the "unorganized militia" is defined as the able-bodied citizenry between >the ages of 18 and 45. Also, militias, unlike the National Guard, are >under the control of the local citizens, instead of the state government or >the Federal government. They can be _called into service_ by the state or >federal government, but are usually autonomous and under local control, >with members required to provide their own weapons. This is something that I am very vague about. In any case, this must be an old and little used provision. No one has ever advised me that I was part of an unorganized militia (though overage now). >Many National Guard >units started out as local militia units, and some carry battle honors won >as far back as the Revolutionary War. Jefferson was deeply opposed to the >notion of a permanent standing army, as his writings show in several >different places. Were he alive today, he would regard the much- maligned >"militia" movement with much greater favour than the news media does, I >believe. I'm not sure he would support private militia groups, but you are certainly right about his feelings towards standing armies, and his belief that ALL citizens should be trained and become a part of a "well-regulated" militia. In the final analysis, what we are left with is a number of arguable positions, and the need for change, clarification and revision of the present situation. The right of self-defense is a natural right, and it should be accommodated by whatever regulations we end up with. It is a tough problem, though. Many thanks for your carefully thought out response. Proposals in this area are probably beyond the scope of my article on school shootings, but these are matters suitable for another article devoted to that one issue. Defining the proper parameters in light of the natural rights involved would make a very interesting study. I'll have to think about that. ;-)
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