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« Benefits vs. risks of gun ownership: Are firearms used often in self-defense? No | Main | Petrophobic Democrats: Let’s have a 100-year recession »

June 28, 2008



"Liberty teeth: George Washington never said ‘Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself’"

Well, he should have.

Frank Warner

Probably not. America isn't strongest because of firearms. It's strongest because it's free.

jj mollo

And some would say that it's free because it's armed. I'm inclined to think that we would be free anyway, but it's difficult to prove.

It is the algorithm and tradition of government which keeps us free. Checks and balances. Separation of authority into various districts and functions. No one holds all the reins, and armed forces are accountable to civilian authority. Even the armed forces are divided. Napoleon could never have gained supremacy here. For one thing, the Electoral College would have flunked him out.

Frank Warner

And can you picture George Washington ever saying firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution?

"First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen." Even if he did lead the Continental Army and was our first Commander in Chief, and maybe because he held those positions, he never would have said anything so gun-slingingly dopey.

"Next in importance"? For one thing, "arms" are mentioned in the Constitution anyway. And freedom of speech and freedom of the press are mentioned before "arms."

Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, had arms enough to kill all of us. But it was weak because it smothered freedom. Secrecy gave the Soviet Union a tactical military advantage, but even with all that megatonnage, the U.S.S.R. was hopelessly retarded.


However, all those arms in the Soviet Union were not in the hands of the people; that's why they were subjected to the tyranny and we were faced with the threat that the dictatorship posed.

Frank Warner

The trouble was, those Soviet arms weren't in the hands of rulers accountable to the people, and to a free press, free speech, free opposition parties and an independent judiciary.

During the Cold War, American civilians weren't walking around with nuclear weapons. But openness and accountability kept (and keep) our rulers from using them in the name of oppression and aggression.

As I recall, Lee Harvey Oswald belonged to a gun club when he lived in the Soviet Union. No comment on cause and effect, but it sure didn't help.

jj mollo

I don't think there's any town of Jericho in the US that could stand against the might of the US military. The towns of the US are protected by philosophy, not firepower.

Even MOVE and David Koresh could not accumulate enough firepower to stand against the smallest contingent of US might, any more than John Brown could. Americans can be ambivalent about the use of power by the government. We were crying out for military intervention after Katrina, but we all know that it is the Constitution that prevents such force from being used against citizens on a regular basis. The Constitution isn't just a piece of paper though. It is the philosophical disposition of the American people, in and out of the armed services.

The biggest threat to our freedom, on that score, is the War on Drugs. Somehow the People have decided that it's OK to invade, confiscate and imprison in the name of protecting the public from its own bad choices. Even there, the steel doors and the street-sweepers of drug dealers cannot even slow down the Narcs from coming in when they want to.

In short, no one can win or maintain their freedom against a modern state by arming themselves. Freedom is a gift from our predecessors, initiated by a confluence of unusual circumstances, freak events and remarkable talents. It can be maintained only by assiduous attention to threats against it, by wise strategic actions and by an extravagant altruism on the part of the citizens. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to extend the same gift, undiminished, to your successors.

Frank Warner

Well said, JJ.


Interesting. The quote I've seen is similar, but may be apocryphal. I was trying to source it when I encountered this discussion. As given above, I'd never have bought it as authentic. The version I've seen is: "Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence. To secure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and the pistol are equally indispensable. The very atmosphere of firearms everywhere restrains evil interference--they deserve a place of honor with all that is good."

Just in rereading it, doubts arise. "To secure peace, security and happiness..." They were more concerned with "Life, liberty and property." "Pursuit of happiness" was used so that there'd be some basis to eliminate slavery in time.

What's compelling about the quotation? I think it's retold because it encompasses the mistrust of government most Americans feel, and the founders certainly felt. While personal security was certainly one reason for the 2nd amendment, given the founders' writings, the biggest reason was to be the right that prevented the stripping of all other rights.

In the end, the question isn't "should citizens have guns?" it's, "How much do you really trust your government?"

Frank Warner

We all have to keep a close watch on our government, and stay involved in the way it governs.

Andrew, you say "personal security was certainly one reason for the 2nd amendment, giving the founders' writings."

Which of our founders said anything about personal security -- that is, defending the person or his family -- in the debate over the Second Amendment?

Handgun rights advocates often say our founders supported the right to bear firearms for personal protection. They even make up quotations like the one here. But where is one documented instance of a founding father saying, in the Bill of Rights debate, that that Second Amendment is for personal protection as well as the common defense against tyranny?

Such a quote is so hard to find that the Supreme Court had to deduce it in its Heller decision.

An Observer

To the writer of this article: You really have given no legitimate reasons as to when this would have been faked, or who could have faked it. To say that 18th century America tended not to use fractional percentages....So what mathematics had a sudden downturn and then sparked back up in your high school math class? While that may be an exaggeration, it doesn't differ to far from what you are saying.

Also the case that he tended to talk in long winded sentences in formal gatherings....So he never uttered a sentence fewer than thirty words? Of course he did so that debunks that theory. The list goes on.

It had been nearly 150 years since the pilgrims. YES he had historical reference, just like we do to say...the union or confederate forces in the civil war. That was just a stupid case to make.

Gun control was an issue then. Every last word of the constitution was an issue then. That's where Federalists and Anti-Federalists came into play, and just like politics now, you had to rely on rhetoric to sway opinion.

Prairie wagons? Do you know the exact date that they started being called that? I don't, and I don't know anyone who does, because strangely enough, I don't know anyone who was alive in the 18th century. Attempting to debunk that terminology is a waste of time, and remains purely up to speculation.

I'm not sure if George Washington said this or not. Just as I am not sure if any quote is attributed to the correct person. Just as I am not entirely sure if George Washington REALLY had wooden teeth.

People could be lying to us all the time. But any history book I have ever read states that George Washington was a strong supporter of the constitution. Being as the right to bare firearms is in the very beginning of that document, we can pretty safely assume that he did support it and that he thought it relatively important.

Judging from your writing and the tone that you choose to make your claims, it is clear to me that you strongly oppose anti-gun control points of view. Making this whole stupid paper biased and unreliable at BEST. So if I have to choose between an historical quote that, at the very least, supports his basic opinion on the subject matter, or your liberal based biased propaganda; I will choose the former. Move to China, I hear it's pretty hard to own a gun over there.

Frank Warner

Dear An Observor:

It's fairly bizarre logic to jump from a dispute over a fake quote to telling me to move to China.

It's easy enough these days to prove a quote from our first president is real. Do some research. If you can prove there is a legitimate record of Washington saying those words, I'll give you $5. If you can't, you go to China.

We stick to the facts here. The fact is, our founders discussed the right to bear arms as a way to allow civilians to keep everything from muskets to battleships that can be called into service to defend the new republic. But there is no record, prior to adoption of the Constitution, of a founder saying the right to bear arms referred to a civilian's right to personal protection.

In other words, the Constitution says you can have your own rifles and battleships, but it doesn't guarantee a right to a handgun.

Last year, however, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution's Second Amendment protected private ownership of handguns. Remarkably, that Heller ruling could not quote any one of our founders discussing personal protection in arguing in favor of the Second Amendment.

Before you stand up and cheer for Heller, be sure you understand what has happened here. The Supreme Court has turned the Second Amendment upside down. Now it allows civilian possession of firearms for personal protection, but if you, as a private citizen, try to amass the kinds of "arms" the Second Amendment really was referring to -- the most up-to-date cannons, bombs and battleships -- you'll go to jail.

All this happened without a vote by the States to amend the Second Amendment. Seems unconstitutional to me.

jj mollo

If you read through the wikiquote list of certified Washington quotes, you are compelled to conclude that the bogus quote is just not his style. Also listed are some of the other bogus efforts to enlist his posthumous support for one thing or another. One such effort was made, apparently by American Nazis before WWII, to show him as an anti-semite. Given the nature of his known letters to Jewish congregations, that effort is easily debunked.

Devon Stavrowsky

jj mollo said in essence that no citizens group could stand against the US military, so the reliance on guns to protect liberty is specious at best. The same could be said about farmers opposing the British military... the most organized, experienced, disciplined, and well armed military force on the planet at the time of the Revolution.

Reliance on guns to protect liberty is, indeed, a fall-back position, which would only be popularly addressed if the rule of law had already fallen. In that case, I think it likely the police and military would popularly side with the people. American GIs are not the mindless robots you find in many other foreign militaries. If it gets that bad, I believe most will opt out... certainly against killing Americans. Enough would refuse to do it that pretty quickly all would. And it is in the citizenry at large having guns that the threat of the US military having to kill American civilians exists. Without that, the police and military just control, without having to face the decision that comes when ordered to gun down American patriots.

Our having guns Gives the Obama Administration pause... to the point that they are loathe, I think, to actually try to take them away from us (at least all at once), because doing so could incite the same kind of response that declaring a dictatorship would.


I don't fully follow your logic.

Did the British military side with the people?

And what if the law morphed such that it decreed that you live in a socialist state? Wouldn't liberty be lost despite the fact that the rule of law had not already fallen?

Devon Stavrowsky

The British military considered us as traitors. I don't see the US military feeling that way.

As to the law morphing..... liberty would indeed be lost. But as long as we had the ability to throw out the bums that 'morphed' the law and change it back, I don't see armed revolution as a realistic possibility. If they were to change the law so that that was NOT a possibility, I don't see armed revolution as avoidable.

jj mollo

The Obama Administration doesn't care about your guns. They care about your vote. Every hoodlum and nut in the country has a gun, and the government has no idea how to take them away. And half of those hoodlums are underage.

Children, felons and the mentally unstable should not have guns. Do you disagree with that? If not, tell me how to enforce it.

Seattle Dentist

I agree with you. This type of projects should be encouraged and I think that these type of projects are the projects for the future. . . . .


The founders protected the right to bear arms by not including it in the enumerates powers of the federal government. They didn't think that there needed to be an additional group of amendments, and said so on numerous occasions. To them, owning a gun was as important as owning a pair of pants, and truly, many of them would rather have had the gun than the pants. But the issue to them was not the government taking the guns away, I don't think they could ever see a time when the federal government would take guns, when the citizens would not also be in revolt.

Are we getting close to the end of the USA as we know it? Democrats protested in front of a swastika, and killed blacks in wholesale slaughter in the southern states, and now they control congress and the presidency, and accuse republicans of their former crimes. So I don't know.

But I do know one thing. The Framers said enough on weapons to make it perfectly clear that they were never to be taken by the government, ever. They knew better, they fought a war that started with the British trying to disarm them - and put safeguards in place to prevent that from ever happening again. So we don't need to make up quotes, there are plenty of excellent legitimate ones out there, but even more than that, the founders entire lives were about weapons, from hunting to self defense. The idea of a gun ban in the land of the free would have shocked them to their cores.

Frank Warner

Matthew, I'd love to see one "excellent legitimate" quote from a Founding Father saying citizens have a right to firearms for personal self-defense.

The right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights is broad. It amounts to the right of private individuals to keep arsenals and battleships in case they're needed for the defense of the states and the nation.

But I doubt you can list "plenty of excellent legimate" quotes describing the "right to bear arms" as the right to bear firearms for personal self-defense.

The difference is important, because with the understanding that we don't have a right to all kinds of arms for personal self-defense, the U.S. might reach a rational "Switzerland compromise," in which handguns practically are banned in most homes, but a rifle is practically required in every home.

With the Heller court decision, those interested in access to any kind of firearm for personal self-defense have won the day. The irony is that, in that victory, the obvious original intent of the Second Amendment -- allowing private citizens to organize armies against tyranny -- seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

What if Donald Trump or George Soros decided to build a Militia Battleship today? Would the Supreme Court uphold their right to do it? Probably not. But where did that right go?

William L. Kuhns

I agree to your article except for one thing you wrote deeply disturbs me. THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY!!!!! It is a REPUBLIC!!!! our leaders now would like you to think its is a Democracy. However, our fore fathers of this Great Nation Hated Democracy. Hence, Our Pledge if Allegence to the Flag of the United States of America, And to the REPUBLIC for which it stands......

Dan Bidondi

First off Washington DID say that quote!
Washington and Jefferson along with many other Founding Fathers made is VERY clear how important it is for Citizens to have FIREARMS..
2nd, what you modern day Liberals and Conservatives fail to understand..
Our Fouding Fathers where NOT Democrats or Republicans. George Washington warned NOT to get involved in these Political parties in his farewell adress.
For anyone to be for gun control, you gotta question your Patriotism. Remember its WE THE PEOPLE who give us our rights and freedoms NOT Government.
Citizens being armed GAURENTEES these liberties so says the Founding Fathers..
Anyone who thinks other wise is UNCONSTITUTIONAL and doesn't know jack about our History.

Dan Bidondi

No the Founding Fathers made is VERY clear that FIREARMS people should have..
"Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence … from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable … the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that's good."
George Washington
First President of the United States


"The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world 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 the law-abiding deprived of the use of them."
Thomas Paine


"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
Richard Henry Lee
American Statesman, 1788


"The great object is that every man be armed." and "Everyone who is able may have a gun."
Patrick Henry
American Patriot

Dan Bidondi

It makes me sick when you people THINK you know history when you DONT!
If it wasn't for the armed Citizen, we still would be under British Rule..
If we where to give up our guns today, we would be in a dictatorship over night.
Look what happened in Germany and EVERY country that when the Citizens gave up there guns, litteraly over night they lost most or all of there liberties.

Dan Bidondi

Plus a REAL liberal was one of Thomas Jefferson, todays liberals are a weak petty excuse willing to give up there essential liberties for this fake security. Same goes for todays Conservative.

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