Arms in the hands of citizens [may] be used at individual discretion...in private self-defense...
--John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of the Governments of the United States of America, 471 (1788)
Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be America's heart, her benedictions and prayers, but she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator of her own.
-- John Quincy Adams, 1821.
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 (Peirce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850)
The rifle of all descriptions, the shot gun, the musket and repeater are such arms; and that under the Constitution the right to keep and bear arms cannot be infringed or forbidden by the legislature.
-- ANDREWS v. STATE; 50 Tenn. 165,179,8 Am. Rep. 8, 14 (Tennessee Supreme Court, 1871)
-- ANDREWS v. STATE; 50 Tenn. (3 Heisk) 165, 178; (1871)
War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth fighting for is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
-- Anonymous. (Seen on a poster at a gun show. No author was cited for this truly excellent statement.)
If cowardly and dishonorable men sometimes shoot unarmed men with army pistols or guns, the evil must be prevented by the penitentiary and gallows, and not by a general deprivation of a constitutional privilege.
-- Arkansas Supreme Court, 1878
You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence.
-- Charles A. Beard
Those rights, then, which God and nature have established, and are therefore called natural rights, such as life and liberty, need not the aid of human laws to be more effectually invested in every man than they are; neither do they receive any additional strength when declared by the municipal laws to be inviolate. On the contrary, no human legislature has power to abridge or destroy them, unless the owner shall himself commit some act that amounts to a forfeiture.
-- Sir William Blackstone
Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficient....the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
-- Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Olmstead v. United States
The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
-- Edmund Burke, 1784 speech
Never turn your back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!
-- Winston Churchill
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 shall 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.
-- Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788
-- 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
If a gun bill will pass because of the politics of the situation, you must see to it that its burdens are imposed upon a man because of a criminal background and not because he is an ordinary citizen and perhaps poor.
-- Gen. James H. Doolittle
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they have resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress.
-- Frederick Douglass
The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.
-- Albert Einstein
The one weapon every man, soldier, sailor, or airman should be able to use effectively is the rifle. It is always his weapon of personal safety in an emergency, and for many it is the primary weapon of offence and defense. Expertness in its use cannot be over emphasized.
-- General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1943.
They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
-- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759
The whole of the Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals ... It establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of.
-- Albert Gallatin of the New York Historical Society, October 7, 1789
There are going to be situations where people are going to go without assistance. That's just the facts of life.
-- LA Chief of Police, Darryl Gates.
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, October 14, 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
-- Eldridge Gerry, speaking on the 2nd Amendment (1 Annals of Cong. Aug. 17, 1789)
Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.
-- Mahatma Ghandi
Last Monday a string of amendments were presented to the lower house; these altogether respect personal liberty...
-- Senator William Grayson of Virginia in a letter to Patrick Henry
...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.
-- Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-8
-- Alexander Hamilton
-- Senator Orrin Hatch, Chairman, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Preface, "The Right To Keep And Bear Arms"
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.
-- Patrick Henry, speaking to the Virginia convention for the ratification of the constitution on the necessity of the right to keep and bear arms, 1788. ... 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836
-- Patrick Henry, in the Virginia Convention on the ratification of the Constitution ... Debates and other Proceedings of the Convention of Virginia, ...taken in shorthand by David Robertson of Petersburg, at 271, 275 (2d ed. Richmond, 1805). Also 3 Elliot, Debates at 386.
-- Patrick Henry and George Mason, Elliot, Debates at 185
-- Patrick Henry ... 3 J. Elliot, Debates in the Several State Conventions 45, 2d ed. Philadelphia, 1836
-- Patrick Henry (1736-1799) in his famous "The War Inevitable" speech, March, 1775
-- Patrick Henry (1736-1799) in his famous "The War Inevitable" speech, March, 1775
The people of the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, bows, spears, firearms, or other types of arms. The possession of these elements makes difficult the collection of taxes and dues, and tends to permit uprising. Therefore, the heads of provinces, official agents, and deputies are ordered to collect all the weapons mentioned above and turn them over to the government.
-- Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Shogun, August 29, 1558, Japan.
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 most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subjected people to carry arms, history shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subjected peoples to carry arms have prepared their own fall.
-- Adolph Hitler, Edict of March 18, 1938.
The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.
-- Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minnesota)
It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.
-- Justice Robert H. Jackson
On every question of construction (of the constitution) let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823, The Complete Jefferson, p.322
-- Jefferson quoting 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria in On Crimes and Punishment, 1764
-- Thomas Jefferson, Proposed Virginia Constitution, June 1776, Jefferson Papers 344
-- Thomas Jefferson ... A quote from Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William S. Smith Nov. 13, 1787. Taken from Jefferson, On Democracy 20, S. Padover ed., 1939
-- Thomas Jefferson
-- Thomas Jefferson
-- Thomas Jefferson (1774)
-- Encyclopedia of Thomas Jefferson, 318 (Foley, Ed., reissued 1967)
The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.
-- Zachariah Johnson, 3 Elliot, Debates at 646
A militia, when properly formed, Are in fact the people themselves... and include all men capable of bearing arms.
-- Richard Henry Lee, Senator, First Congress, Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer (1788) at 169
-- Richard Henry Lee, 1788, Initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights ... Walter Bennett, ed., Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republic, at 21, 22, 124 (Univ. of Alabama Press, 1975)
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it.
-- Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861
-- Abraham Lincoln
I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.
-- James Madison
-- James Madison, I Annuals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).
-- James Madison, I Annuals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789) [This was Madison's original proposal for the "Second Amendment"]
-- James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in Federalist Paper No. 46. at 243-244
-- James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in Federalist Paper No. 46.
-- James Madison "Federalist No. 46"
-- James Madison, The Federalist Papers (No. 46).
I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.
-- George Mason, Framer of the Declaration of Rights, Virginia, 1776, which became the basis for the U.S. Bill of Rights; 3 Elliott, Debates at 425-426, during Virginia's ratification convention, 1788
-- George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 380
-- George Mason from "Remarks on Annual Elections for the Fairfax Independent Company" quoted from The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792 edited by Robert A. Rutland [Chapel Hill, 1970]
-- George Mason, Article 13 of The Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776
I always marveled at how a woman who had never handled a gun could shoot an errant husband straight through the heart on her first try, with one shot. And a trained policeman, trying to shoot an armed bank robber, only ends up hitting a elderly woman waiting for a bus two blocks away.
-- H.L. Mencken in his autobiographical "Newspaper Days"
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.
-- John Stuart Mill, "On Liberty" 1859
'The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.' The right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every description, and not such merely as are used by the militia, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or broken in upon, in the smallest degree; and all this for the important end to be attained: the rearing up and qualifying a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the security of a free State. Our opinion is that any law, State or Federal, is repugnant to the Constitution, and void, which contravenes this right.
-- NUNN v. STATE, 1 Ga. (1 Kel.) 243, at 251 (1846)
The supposed quietude of a good man 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 the use of them...
-- Thomas Paine, Thoughts on Defensive War, 1775; I Writings of Thomas Paine at 56 (1894)
-- Thomas Paine
The prohibition is general. No clause in the Constitution could by rule of construction be conceived to give the Congress the power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretense by a state legislature. But if in blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both.
-- William Rawle, 1825; considered academically to be an expert commentator on the Constitution. He was offered the position of the first Attorney General of the United States, by President Washington.
Democracy, the practice of self-government, is a covenant among free men to respect the rights and liberties of their fellows.
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt
The great body of our citizens shoot less as times goes on. We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and indeed among all classes, as well as in the military services by every means in our power. Thus, and not otherwise, may we be able to assist in preserving peace in the world... The first step -- in the direction of preparation to avert war if possible, and to be fit for war if it should come -- is to teach men to shoot!
-- President Theodore Roosevelt's last message to Congress.
My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know it is only the hits that count. We will hit...
-- From "My Rifle" by Major General W.H. Rupertus, USMC.
All military type firearms are to be handed in immediately ... The SS, SA and Stahlhelm give every respectable German man the opportunity of campaigning with them. Therefore anyone who does not belong to one of the above named organizations and who unjustifiably nevertheless keeps his weapon ... must be regarded as an enemy of the national government.
-- SA Oberfuhrer of Bad Tolz, March, 1933.
The practical and safe construction is that which must have been in the minds of those who framed our organic law. The intention was to embrace The 'arms,' an acquaintance with whose use was necessary for their protection against the usurpation of illegal power - such as rifles, muskets, shotguns, swords and pistols. These are now but little used in war; still they are such weapons that they or their like can still be considered as 'arms' which the [the people] have a right to bear.
-- STATE v. KERNER; 181 NC 574, 107 SE 222, 224-25 (North Carolina Supreme Court, 1921.)
If the text and purpose of the Constitutional guarantee relied exclusively on the preference for a militia `for defense of the State,' then the terms `arms' most likely would include only the modern day equivalents of the weapons used by the Colonial Militia Men.
-- STATE v. KESSLER, 289 Or. 359, 369, 614 p. 2d 94,99 (Oregon Supreme Court, 1980.)
...we incline to the opinion that the Legislature cannot inhibit the citizen from bearing arms openly, because it authorizes him to bear them for the purposes of defending himself and the State, and it is only when carried openly, that they can be efficiently used for defence.
-- STATE v. REID; 1 Ala. 612, 619, 35 Am. Dec. 47; (1840)
...The right of the people peacefully to assemble for lawful purposes existed long before the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. In fact, it is and always has been one of the attributes of a free government. It 'derives its source,' to use the language of Chief Justice Marshall, in Gibbons v Ogden, 9 Wheat., 211, 'from those laws whose authority is acknowledged by civilized man throughout the world.' It is found wherever civilization exists. It was not, therefore, a right granted to the people by the Constitution... The second and tenth counts are equally defective. The right there specified is that of 'bearing arms for a lawful purpose.' This is not a right granted by the constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second Amendment declares that it shall not infringed; but this, as has been seen, means no more than it shall not be infringed by Congress. This is one of the amendments that has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the National Government...
-- UNITED STATES v. CRUIKSHANK; 92 US 542; (1875)
To prohibit a citizen from wearing or carrying a war arm . . . is an unwarranted restriction upon the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. If cowardly and dishonorable men sometimes shoot unarmed men with army pistols or guns, the evil must be prevented by the penitentiary and gallows, and not by a general deprivation of constitutional privilege.
-- WILSON v. STATE, 33 Ark. 557, at 560, 34 Am. Rep. 52, at 54 (1878)
Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil influence--They deserve a place of honor with all that's good.
-- George Washington
-- George Washington, speech of January 7, 1790 in the Boston Independent Chronicle, January 14, 1790
-- George Washington
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 Paul Ford, ed., Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, at 56 (New York, 1888).
Indeed, I am now of the opinion that a compelling case for "stricter gun control" cannot be made, at least not on empirical grounds. I have nothing but respect for the various pro-gun control advocates with whom I have come in contact over the past years. They are, for the most part, sensitive, humane and intelligent people, and their ultimate aim, to reduce death and violence in our society, is one that every civilized person must share. I have, however, come to be convinced that they are barking up the wrong tree.
-- James Wright (scholarly researcher who collaborates with Peter Rossi)