What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

As stories of the Parkland murders continue to dominate the news cycle, public sentiment is being manipulated in a new and most disturbing way. In the media, both social and mainstream, responsibility for the tragedy is being shifted from the mentally-unbalanced murderer of 17 innocents to the law-abiding members of the National Rifle Association, an organization whose primary purpose is to preserve and protect our individual freedoms. And while reactionaries cry for more feel-good legislation, over two centuries ago a litany of revered statesmen spoke thoughtfully of the very circumstance we face today. Viewed through the long lens of history, wisdom and perspective may be gleaned by those willing to learn.  

“The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”
–Samuel Adams

The promise of the Second Amendment was neither a blank check nor demand loan. Peaceable citizens do not get in fights or make threats, and they certainly do not murder their teachers and classmates. It is hard to argue that the mental state of a perpetrator of mass murder is not defective in some way. And though there were ample warning signs and opportunities to either stop or mitigate the Parkland atrocity, numerous systems failed and 17 people died. Clearly, changes need to be made to avert future tragedies, but Second Amendment rights are non-negotiable for a reason.

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“To disarm the people…[i]s the most effectual way to enslave them.”

–George Mason

Jefferson knew “debarring” citizens of firearms was the critical first step toward the loss of individual liberties. All of our constitutional rights are foundational freedoms, the loss of which would effectively enslave us to the will of tyrannical rulers. It is no coincidence the Founders placed equal importance on all our rights, including the individual freedom to defend one’s rights, one’s self from physical harm, and importantly, from those in power who might seek to take away those rights. Ben Franklin expounded on this theme very clearly:

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
–Benjamin Franklin

Ironically, one of the leaders on the other side of the American Revolution had similar thoughts on individual freedoms.

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
–William Pitt (the Younger)

That an American statesman and British Prime Minister on opposite sides of a seismic conflict both recognized the same fundamental truth should give everyone clamoring for change to our constitutional order pause. In the wake of Parkland, virtually everyone agrees “something” should be done, but what and at what cost? It is never necessary to give up freedoms for the sake of a little temporary safety. And would surrendering some of our Second Amendment rights yield society even temporary safety? History’s conclusion is a clear no.

“The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes…. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
–Thomas Jefferson
(quoting from 18th-century criminologist Cesare Beccaria’s “Essay on Crimes and Punishments” published in 1764; listed as a spurious quotation by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation)

What was true in the 18th century rings true today. When law-abiding citizens are denied their God-given right to self-defense, the odds move decidedly in favor of evil. Citizens rendered defenseless by well-intentioned but short-sighted legislation banning firearms are significantly more likely to become victims of crime than constituents of jurisdictions that do not infringe Second Amendment freedoms. It is no coincidence U.S. cities such as Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C.—cities with stringent restrictions on firearms—consistently report the highest incidence of gun violence.  

And yet America’s problem remains, as our lack of empathy prevents engagement in any meaningful dialogue.

The majority of people on the anti-gun side are not unreasonable. It is just their proposals that are. All Americans simply want the violence to stop. But neither the problems we face nor their solutions are simple. Today’s public debate barely mentions the causation for a generation of mass murderers. In addition to a mental health screening system that is clearly failing, discipline, family values and personal responsibility are lacking in many households today. The desensitization to human suffering and death promulgated by Hollywood movie studios and the video game industry must be addressed if we have any hope of putting an end to this epidemic of violence. But that discussion is not likely to happen. Not when liberal leaders pushing for more government control know it is much easier to blame the law-abiding members of the NRA for senseless tragedy than to tackle the real problems facing our nation.

This is why so many of us stand with the NRA and fight like hell to protect the Second Amendment. I do not know the final answer to solving America’s gun violence problem, but I know banning guns is not a solution. History has proven the most important step in subjugating a nation is to take away its citizens’  firearm freedoms, whether under the guise of protecting children or disarming criminals, or because “you don’t really need that firearm.”

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About the Author
Steve Scott is a reformed attorney, long-time university instructor and producer/host of the outdoor TV shows “Safari Hunter’s Journal” and “Steve Scott’s Outdoor Guide.” For more information, visit