Jefferson Quote Used In Pro-Gun Control Argument?

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    Can anyone provide me with some context for this quote? One of my Facebook friends has been going crazy these last couple of days with posts about gun control and she posted this as an argument for gun control. Supposedly it’s a Thomas Jefferson quote? I’ve never seen anyone quote Jefferson when arguing for gun control before…

    Here’s the quote :

    “I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”


    Jefferson’s Virginia required all men of military age to participate in regular militia musters (i.e., training). To those musters, every man who was not indigent must bring his own military weapon. He wanted all students at the University of Virginia to be regularly drilled in military science as well.

    Has the time since Jefferson shown that disarming the population is conducive to prosperity?

    I’d say “no.”


    This quotation doesn’t comport with Jefferson’s ideas of strict construction of the Constitution, either, unless this quotation means simply that while Jefferson doesn’t believe in frequently changing laws and constitutions, he isn’t averse to changing them as time and experience reveal deficiencies therein. But changing them how? By viewing the Constitution as a “living” thing that somehow organically changes with time, public opinion and judicial whim? I doubt that Jefferson meant this, if he indeed said what is quoted above. But the Constitution already has a process for its amendment, without the need to resort to all this “living document” stuff, and that process has been used for this very purpose: see the Twelfth Amendment.

    The real question, it seems to me, is, would Jefferson, if he were alive today, want to amend the Constitution to repeal the Second Amendment? That’s pretty much unknowable, though I personally doubt he would. And as Dr. Gutzman says, Jefferson seems to have been pretty supportive of the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.



    It must also be remembered and emphasized that the Second Amendment only applied to the general government, not the States. Had Virginia or any other State wanted to restrict the possession of firearms they were perfectly allowed to do so. The general government could not disarm the militia, but the States could. Now, no State would have disarmed the militia, but Pennsylvania had several restrictions on firearms.



    Interesting, Brion!


    Jefferson adamantly opposed altering the Constitution by “construction.” It was the Virginia Constitution, not the US one, that he advocated amending extensively.

    In addition to Dr. McClanahan’s points, let me add that in the Virginia Ratification Convention, the third most active Federalist orator, George Nicholas, said that if the Federal Government abused the powers it was being granted, Virginia could reclaim them. We call that secession. This was the last major speech before the final vote. Imagine it something like this:

    Nicholas — We can always secede.
    Call the roll!
    The Constitution is narrowly approved, 88-80.


    Wow! Awesome. Thank you guys for your responses. I didn’t see this in my e-mail until I got the notification for Kevin’s response in my email a few days ago. I really appreciate the insights you all have provided on the matter!



    Nothing about this quotation is inconsistent with Jefferson’s insistence on what you call “strict construction” (which in any other area would be called “law”). He thought laws should be modified as new discoveries were made, their imperfections became evident, etc. This has nothing to do with giving judges power to remake law.

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