Thomas Jefferson on Guns

From time to time, you see people who claim that “gun rights” supporters forget part of the second amendment.

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.

Now, given the way that the British were beating in the War for Independence, you’d think that it was obvious – we want the people to have guns so that they can do the same again someday.

But I’ve seen people who think this interpretation is moronic and that it allows for the National Guard or something. Quite what a constitution would be doing giving rights to the state by using the words “the right of the people” is beyond me. But then, Obama in his second inaugural announced:

No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future.

(Apparently, that means it’s the government’s job. But if you call him a communist you’re a crazy person!)

But I digress. Back to the second amendment, and an an interesting fact I stumbled across today.

This sentence comes from Thomas Jefferson‘s three drafts of the Virginia Constitution. The text does vary slightly in each draft:

First Draft: “No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”[1]

Second Draft: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements].”[2]

Third Draft: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements]”[3]

This sentence does not appear in the Virginia Constitution as adopted.

Note: This sentence is often seen paired with the following: “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.” That sentence does not appear in the Virginia Constitution drafts or text as adopted, nor in any other Jefferson writings that we know of.

Seems pretty conclusive to me.

That’s not to say that the constitution shouldn’t be amended (that’s up to America) or that the founders would like what the 2nd had meant in modern society.

But what it actually meant is pretty clear.


  1. So what? Jefferson wasn’t the sole drafter of the Constitution, couldn’t have predicted the emergence of assault weapons and the problems they have created, and specified that it was on private land only. Hopeless justification for letting loons have machine guns. Try harder.

    1. Clearly you’re not trying very hard yourself. Perhaps if you’re going to contribute to the debate, you could do so in a way that reveals a rough working knowledge of current US gun laws?

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