Paul Ratner (courtesy facebook.com)

“Thomas Jefferson wrote this into the 1776 draft of the Virginia Constitution, the first such document of a state declaring their independence: ‘No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms,'” Paul Ratner (above) reveals at bigthink.com . . .

That seems pretty cut and dry until you consider that the second and third drafts of the same document added “within his own lands or tenements” the sentence. It seems Jefferson seriously considered that there should be some limitations on the individual’s right to gun ownership. It makes sense to own a gun for self-defense on your own property, but a different set of issues comes up when this gun is taken into public space.

And so Mr. Ratner heads down the rhetorical rabbit hole, cherry- and nit-picking quotes from America’s scare-quotes founding fathers end-scare-quotes to prove that they weren’t the absolutists that latter day gun rights advocates want them to be. Like this:

Another oft-used quote by Jefferson used by gun rights advocates is: “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” Here Jefferson states the basic principle behind rising up against the monarchy – while it’s harder to control and keep stable, a democratic society is preferable to being enslaved, though peacefully. And, as we all know, guns are an excellent instrument for disrupting peace.

The statement can be debated further – is it more moral to live in a society where individual safety is not guaranteed and people often die due to gun violence versus living in a society where you have fewer freedoms, but greater safety for all individuals? Is “freedom” more precious than safety?

Yes. Next question?

While guns are certainly useful in overthrowing monarchs, is individual gun ownership the best way to oppose monarchs or hypothetical tyrants?

For argument’s sake, if the main reason to have a gun is to stop a potential dictator, what if people are organized into militias (as the founding fathers advocated) or some such political organization? And these people could have a collective well-guarded stockpile of guns and munitions instead of guns being out there in the world for any random person to use (for purposes having nothing to do with stopping the next Hitler).

Rather’s trotting-out ye olde argument that the right to keep and bear arms is a collective right. Only Ratner isn’t arguing that RKBA is a collective right but that it should be.

The few people who are passionate enough about standing up to the government occasionally do organize themselves in such fashion (like Cliven Bundy’s family). But outside of this anti-tyrannical reasoning, it can be argued that the prevalence and the media attention on gun violence is causing the fear and instability in society that is the perfect breeding ground for a tyrant to exploit.

Clearly, Mr. Ratner has left historical analysis behind to make the case that, well, I’m not quite sure. I think he’s saying that “gun violence” enabled by the Second Amendment makes it more likely that Americans will need their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms to fight tyrants. And that’s a bad thing.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

While it appears to mean something else, this often-invoked quote [by Benjamin Franklin] actually defends the power of a state legislature to impose tax in the interest of collective security.

It’s not really about the gun issue at all, but very often appears on self-serving lists of quotes that are used by various activists. This illustrates the danger of reading too much into the words of admittedly great, but long-since-dead people to address the modern issues we, the living, face.

In Ratner’s view, the Second Amendment ain’t what it seems to be: a clear and unequivocal protection against government infringement of Americans’ individual right to keep and bear arms.

Which can only mean that the men who created the Second Amendment didn’t mean it to be a clear and unequivocal protection against government infringement of Americans’ individual right to keep and bear arms. No matter what the evidence.

In the final analysis, whether or not our Founding Fathers were gun rights “absolutists” is irrelevant. The Second Amendment is absolutely clear: “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Its meaning hasn’t changed. Nor has its importance to the defense of liberty.

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50 Responses to Big Think: Founding Fathers “Not Unequivocal, Loud Gun Rights Advocates”

    • Here is the point , under the same constitution that ‘ clearly ‘ provides Mr. gasbag an avenue to express his opinions without fear of retribution from someone who may disagree with him , he has been given a lawful avenue to change the law of the land and amend the constitution to reflect his desires , it is his unwillingness to accept that there isn’t enough consensus on his side of the argument to sway the pendulum in his favorable direction and his desire to usurp the law and rule against it by someones unlawful decree , that brings people like me to the table . Perhaps , as a matter of counter balance , we should start trying to usurp the single part of the first amendment that gives people free speech , we could try the same baseless arguments and keep these lib-tards busy on the defense .

  1. “within his own lands or tenements” sounds a lot like someone referring to a country or land by the people, for the people. I don’t see it as any stretch to think Mr. Jefferson meant this as “within their sovereign state”.

  2. They weren’t loud second amendment supporters?

    I’d have thought firing flintlocks at the British would get pretty loud…

    • I’m guessing that the screaming of the brits went a little ways towards drowning out the sounds of the flintlock.

    • The problem we are having is that academia has been white-washing those bits of history for several decades. When I inform people that Paul Revere’s ride was to warn the colonists that the British were coming for their guns, many refuse to believe it or look it up.

      • What? What the hell do they think it was about? And the battles of Lexington and Concord? God, it’s amazing how, despite living in an era where pretty much all of us have the entire collective knowledge of the human race at our fingertips and in our pockets, this kind of ignorance still exists. Idiots gonna idiot, huh?

        • Revere’s ride was 230 years ago. Who cares about old stuff, anyway? What has that got to do with Facebook, Kardashians, yoga, or tattoo fashion? A long time ago, maybe people needed guns for stuff. But now, we have, like, malls and rap music, and like, nobody needs a gun for nuthing.

  3. what these progressive, statist, one world worshiping tree hugging unicorn riding gun controllers fail to take into consideration while day dreaming about their version of Utopia is that there are people like me who will not ever surrender my right to keep and bear arms.

    They need to face the reality that guns are here, in ever increasing numbers and there is no way that they are going to be able to collect them without significant bloodshed.

  4. Lets have the government lock firearms up in case they’re ever needed to rebel against that same government.

    Besides that, this idiot thinks that safety can be achieved through words on paper. Being absolutely truly safe is impossible. This guy needs to go watch the part in Fight Club where Tyler Durden talks about the Illusion of Safety repeatedly.

  5. The founding fathers were just men. With all the flaws that implies. Some of them ranted about freedom while owning slaves.

    But the document these deeply flawed men wrote has never been equaled. And I have yet to see anyone alive in our time that could come close to creating such a document.

  6. Aptly named Mr. RATner. Well sure Jefferson had a few qualms about “some folks”being armed. He was a rich southern landowner. Can’t have Sally Hemmings kids rising up to kill the evil slave massa’…same with the sainted George Washington. But Tom didn’t write “shall not be infringed”(or did he?). Anywho I don’t care-off to look at guns(really)…good comment Bud. If you wanna’ see what happens with centrally located guns see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes…

    • He’s never read them, and very likely has never even heard of them.

      He’s not that well-educated, or interested. Pretty standard.

  7. Okay. I dealt with this argument about a centralized location before. Recently in fact. You have a secured storage facility. A government wants to enslave the people, turn tyrannical, etc. What’s going to the first target of the government? The public stockpiles of weapons. They could take those weapons out quickly with a few bombs or missiles. Take those same weapons and spread them throughout the populace, with no lists of who has them, and it becomes near impossible to eliminate them all without first killing every man, woman, and child.

  8. “…is it more moral to live in a society where individual safety is not guaranteed…”

    Well, that would be all societies, since no human institution can guarantee safety. So it’s up to the individual to “guarantee” his own safety — always. Thus it is the individual’s right to “guarantee” his own safety — always.

  9. How does he square his fantasy with the first Militia Acts? One of the first things the fledgling US government did was mandate broad civilian ownership of basic “military” arms, and requiring the same to be brought forth in public on a regular basis.

  10. Is “freedom” more precious than safety?

    Fvck yeah it is! How about you let me have my freedom and you take care of your own safety, instead of taking my freedom so you don’t have to worry about your safety. Yeah? Sounds great to me!

    We can have the best of both worlds if you’d just grow a pair of balls, man up, and take responsibility for the safety of you and yours.

    • So they can live in a gun-free, safe, government-provides-all-your-basic-needs kind of place, I propose we build a place for the Progressives to live. In my proposal, this place will provide them 3 meals, a cot to sleep on, and 24/7 armed security. This place would be surrounded by tall walls with concertina wire with guard towers and alarms so that they can have the safety they demand. Since they value centrally managed collectivism, we can appoint them an administrator to rule over them.
      for their safety of course, we will prevent them from leaving, because it is just too dangerous outside those walls.

    • “How about you let me have my freedom and you take care of your own safety, instead of taking my freedom so you don’t have to worry about your safety. ”

      This right here, is the CORE of the modern debate about guns. Its really a debate about self-reliance vs state-reliance.

      • And that is what they ignorenout of Orlando (and Newtown). There was a LEO wirking a detail. He wasnt able to stop the bloodshed (and though he was shot at, he wasnt shot). The lesson that should be learned is, you alone are responsible for your safety. No one else can ever guarantee it without severely limiting our liberties.

  11. Those attempting to usurp rights are the “moving” party.

    Those attempting to uphold rights are those that are being “moved against” without provocation.

    Nobody asked “Big Think” unless from the wrong side.

  12. Again, and still, sometimes anti-semitism is a begged-state.

    IF YOU GET YOUR WAY, RATNER, When they come for you and yours, we’ll be busy trying to petition our government (a/k/a, our a-hole neighbors that needed a job) for our guns back.

    Poop to that.

  13. “…it can be argued that the prevalence and the media attention on gun violence is causing the fear and instability in society that is the perfect breeding ground for a tyrant to exploit.”

    So, to interpret, all the hand wringing and pontificating by the media are causing societal upheaval that Obama has been attempting to exploit and Oclinton certainly will exploit.

  14. In the final analysis, whether or not our Founding Fathers were gun rights “absolutists” is irrelevant.

    Whatever “absolutist” means. If people would read the federalist papers and other documents in that day, it was clear their intention was to have people – regular people – an individual right to both own firearms and “bear” them. That all the people of the US was the militia, and the main purpose of the second was to slaughter government tyrants and it was the people’s duty to do so.

  15. One oft overlooked reason for the language used in the founding documents, and ancillary writings, is that the document was not written with the “common man” in mind. The founders were all well educated, landholders, professionals, or recognized merchants.

    The constitution did not identify who was eligible to vote, and many state constitutions provided for only white men of certain status. Indeed, there are at least three constitutional amendments clarifying who can vote (15, 19, 26). In 1840, there remained three states (North Caroline, Rhode Island, Virginia) who maintained a requirement for voters to be land owners. No, the original construct of the nation was not a universal democracy with all interaction between governments and citizens detailed finitely in the national constitution; states were to be left to do as they pleased.

    The constitution was designed not as a general prescription for how states would operate, but how the national government would be allowed to operate. Given the world views of the founders, it is not surprising they wrote for themselves and peers; not for “the common man”. Thus, the meanings of now-fuzzy concepts were clear to the founders.

    As the vote began to extend to the “lower classes”, the meaning of the constitution became subject to popular interpretation by people ill-equipped to actually decipher the document. Which ultimately led to exploitation of the constitution by politicians hungry for votes, and courts hungry to establish supremacy over political and individual conduct.

    The founders were able to keep two separate, and sometimes opposite, concepts in mind simultaneously. What they viewed as a necessary control on national government did not necessarily reflect their ideas on how individual states would be governed. 226 years later, it is very difficult for us truly grasp how different were things in 1789. The last 150 years, where states and individuals are suppressed by what was never intended to be used against the populace, we struggle to absorb the full meaning of life where states could operate completely independent of the national constitution.

    • All good points. Also it should be pointed out that none of the BOR applied to the states before the 14th amendment doctrine of inclusion.

  16. One game that’s quite fun: take state gun laws, say NJ, Ma, Ca and apply them to “Free Speech”. Gets idiotic quite fast.
    Oh you want to have a protest? Do you have your license? Did you get fingerprinted and background checked? Did you take your English classes? Is this your first protest this month? This protest, is it on the approved protest list?
    Letter to the editor? Ok, do you have your goose quill and inkpot handy?

    Idiots, all of them. The Constitution was meant to be read and understood by the common man of the time. I guess society has dumbed down since then.

    Thank God for the anti-Federalists of the time, forcing the Bill of Rights.

  17. This sort of Talmudic dissembling and sophistry was not ever part of the Founders’ thinking, and it is offensive to hear some obsequious, post-moderist twerp try to put words under the Founders’ quills.

    All it takes is a simple reading of the Federalist Papers to know the mindset of the Founders, and it is quite clear that the above author has done no such reading. The Founders recognized that liberty was something that required sacrifice – of comfort, of blood, of treasure. The Founders advocated taking up arms against the sole superpower of their day – knowing full well that they could well lose. They knew that doing so was going to result in death, injury, loss of property, titles, land and business.

    As for his question “…is individual gun ownership the best way to oppose monarchs or hypothetical tyrants? the answer is ‘yes.’ Look to the EU to see why right now. The UK has just voted to leave the EU – and look at the reaction of the EUrocrats and especially Germany’s leaders: They’re now going to seek to a) block the UK from leaving by imposing dire penalties if they do leave, and b) preventing other nations from following the UK out the door. In other words, they want to deny people their right to vote on their future – “for their own good,” the justification of every tyrant, in every period of history.

    The Germans are now clearly obsessed with imposing their will on other people – we’ve seen this four times in less than 200 years. The only proven method to get the message through the skulls of Germans that other nations and peoples don’t want their lives run by Germans, is to engrave the message around a lot of bullets before they are fired through the skulls of said Germans.

    Everywhere in history, we see that tyrants understand only one message: Death. It doesn’t matter what sanctions, what opprobrium, what hectoring is done by other “civilized nations” to tyrants: the only way good men can stop the predations of tyrants is to kill the tyrants. It is also proven that other, would-be, tyrants are dissuaded only when they see their prototypes die in savage, gruesome and humiliating fashion. The manner in which Ceaușescu was killed makes a much larger impact than (eg) the Nuremberg trials.

    Want to really dissuade tyrants? Have a mob of their victims grab them and their families up in the middle of the day, and toss them into a tree chipper on live TV.

  18. Yes, because the people who rose up militarily against arguably the most powerful nation at the time using civilian owns arms abhorred the idea of civilian owned arms.

  19. It sounds to me like Alexander Hamilton is a pretty strong proponent of civilian ownership of “weapons of war” right there in Federalist #29:

    “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 the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.”

    I’m not sure how loud he was, but that’s pretty unequivocal.

  20. The constitution is outdated and written by old men who no longer exist and could not see into the future…..

    Ok, new laws, new law says I get to keep my guns.

    Problem solved.

  21. The unfortunate byproduct of the internet.
    Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you should share it. This self called “bigthinker” is trying to equate his inability to think like a man of reason to one of the founders of our country?
    Thomas Jefferson imo would have slapped this boy man senseless and put him out of our misery.
    Some people need to be put in their place now and then and this culture club wannabe seems long overdue.
    Why give these guys the time of day.

    • “Why give these guys the time of day.”

      Because unlike the Left, we don’t believe in shutting down speech we do not like. It should be taken into the light where it can be vetted and other points of view are given before an idea is shot down.

      One side or the other does not have a monopoly of good ideas — even you do not like something, it should be heard and you can still come to your own conclusion.

      • I get it and i agree yet there are so many that spew non sense.
        That’s why i could never enter politics.

  22. Well, there is going to be a modern day experiment very soon.

    European SUPERSTATE to be unveiled: EU nations ‘to be morphed into one’ post-Brexit
    http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/683739/EU-referendum-German-French-European-superstate-Brexit

    This is not new. This not a new rumor. It has been kicked around for some time. If what they are saying is true, we will soon have a single EuroState with a single Constitution. The Left has always contented they could do a better job, it will be interesting to see what they come up with. One thing we know will be missing, there will be no second amendment

    I would like to see a few more news sources repeating this before I say it is 100% true, but if it is, cannot wait to see how modern day politicians craft a constitution. and how it compares.

  23. Where to begin….

    Thomas Jefferson did not even sign the U.S. Constitution, which contains the famous Second Amendment. He wasn’t even at the convention. He was busy in Paris as our Minister to France. (Neither did John Adams, who was then our Minister to Britain.) So his views on the Second Amendment are peripheral. Ratner knows this, so he focuses on Jefferson’s role in writing Virginia’s state constitution. Well.

    Jefferson’s drafts to that state document were not even included in the final ratified document, because Jefferson’s contributions arrived too late for consideration. Moreover, concurrent with the drafting of Virginia’s constitution, was the drafting of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, sort of their own bill of rights. The topic of arms was adequately addressed in that document, so Jefferson’s excluded drafts were all the more irrelevant.

    In the Virginia Declaration of Rights, bearing arms is described as natural for defense. Well, if it’s natural on your land, it’s natural in public, too. More importantly, the way tyrants subjugated people wasn’t by banning militias outright. It was by physically taking their arms. The Founders were well aware of this.

    Militia arms were generally and predominantly, though not exclusively, stored at militia members homes, because militia members owned them personally. The “on his own land….” clause is speaking only to denying the government authority to confiscate arms from people. It is not limiting use of arms only to one’s own land. The People cannot defend their state from only their front porch, after all.

    We must adhere to the constitution the Framers actual ratified, not the constitution that some modern day gungrabber considers one luminary may have suggested.

    • Exactly – that’s what I meant when I said this twerp was putting “words under the Founders’ quills…”

      The quotes he’s pulling were not uttered in the debate over the Constitution, nor the Bill of Rights.

  24. ““Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    While it appears to mean something else, this often-invoked quote [by Benjamin Franklin] actually defends the power of a state legislature to impose tax in the interest of collective security.”

    Notice the idiotic logic, ” if someone gives up liberty to buy a temporary safety deserve neither” apparently means “this means that the government can tax you to provide security!”

    • This is a most distorted and convoluted matter. Simply, an agreeable statement has been lifted completely out of its garden, and transplanted into the kitchen sink. The statement originally was nothing about personal freedoms, libertarian liberty, federal control, or any of the sort. The statement was excised from a letter to the colonial governor (a servant and officer of the king), regarding appropriate taxation for the purpose of funding the defense of the colony. At the time, certain “Proprietaries” (men favored by the king) were granted exemption from taxation of their holdings. The proximate issue was funding defense of the colony against the French and Indians. Franklin petitioned the colonial governor (his own son?) for an answer at to whether the Proprietaries would be allowed to enjoy the liberty from external force that would be provided by the non-Proprietaries taxes, or should the Proprietaries be required to contribute taxes to support the general safety? Was it appropriate that the men who had the most to lose should benefit from the increased taxes of men of less fortune. Therefore, “those who would give up essential liberty…” (liberty in the form of security from harm by outside forces), “…to purchase a little temporary safety (safety of their fortunes due to exemption from taxes), “…deserve neither liberty or safety.” (such men who put their fortunes above their liberty by insisting they should contribute nothing to their liberty (safety from external forces), but prevent any decrease in their wealth.

      The statement is not related to the difference between those who would engage in rebellion against the king, and those who prefer to just go along. A nice cliche’ but a completely imaginary application.

      http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=6&page=238a

  25. So, out of curiosity, I looked up the letter that Ben Franklin is said to have written from the Pennsylvania General Assembly to the Governor: http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=6&page=238a

    While the purpose of the letter is to convince the Governor to sign a bill that allows the taxation being referred to, the purpose given for the taxation is pretty ironic for anyone trying to say that this is not pro-guns: the purpose was to buy ammunition and guns for frontier settlers to be able to defend themselves from French and Indians, because it was considered impossible to try to mount a defense of those frontier areas with any sort of centralized power. Next time someone asks if I think the gov should buy everyone a gun, I’ll have to bring up the fact that Ben Franklin wanted to. 😉

  26. Well thank the Lord some hipster columnist has set me straight. Missed all of that while completing a degree in American History (w/honors) and most of a Masters at a top ten school.

  27. One need only consult the authors of the 2nd Amendment, James Madison and George Mason, whose words remain for us. Both were called upon to stand before the individual legislatures and explain the word and intent of the 2nd Amendment. Based upon their words, the 2nd was ratified along with the rest of the Constitution. For the next 168 years, We the People freely adopted every new firearms technology including fully automatic weapons. Confederate soldiers were permitted to retain their firearms upon swearing an oath to the union. Soldiers retained many issued firearms upon the conclusion of conflicts; some for a fee and some gratis. Such traditions continued up until the National Firearms Act of 1934.

    Those not familiar with firearms history seem to miss the point that colonials hunted for food and defended themselves against hostile Native Americans. That their weapons, for those purposes, were more accurate than military arms. The reason being that at the time the military marched in mass formations toward each other. Firearms did not need to be as accurate when firing into a mass of bodies.

    They also miss the fact that in England, the common people were treated differently from colonists who were taxed more heavily, pressed into military service, and mistreated in other ways. The final straw came when British troops were dispersed across the Massachusetts Bay Colony with orders to confiscate the firearms and munitions of colonists on 17 April 1775. On 18 April 1775, British troops were confronted by armed colonists, shots rang out, and the Revolutionary War was on.

  28. “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms,’”

    Unless they’re a convict. Or the governing body doesn’t like them. Or if the guns are too scary. Or if theirs uncertainty about how they’ll use them. Or if they might be ablet o use them against another unjustified. Or if they might sell them. Or if they don’t have them the way they see fit. Or if we can’t tink of a “legitimate” use for them.

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