David Barton, Guns, and the Second Amendment

I recently purchased David Barton’s book on the Second Amendment and had planned a mini-series on it. However, Chris Rodda beat me to it with several detailed posts on his book and other statements Barton has made recently.  This post just gives some examples and points you to her articles.

First, regarding Barton’s book on the Second Amendment, Rodda takes several citations from Barton’s book and demonstrates how he edits them to suit his purposes. For instance in his book, Barton quotes the legal scholar Blackstone on the right to bear arms (location 73).

“Concerning the right of citizens to own and use arms, Blackstone’s declared:

“‘The … right of the [citizens] that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defense. … [This is] the natural right of resistance and self-preservation when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression…. [T]o vindicate these rights when actually violated or attacked, the [citizens] are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next, to the right of petitioning the [government] for redress of grievances; and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defense.’”

Rodda points out that Barton chopped up Blackstone’s citation to remove the qualifications on the right to keep and bear arms. Note what Barton removed in bold below.

“The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law.Which is also declared by the same statute 1 W. & M. st. 2. c. 2. and is indeed a public allowance,under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”

“And, lastly, to vindicate these rights, when actually violated or attacked, the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next to the right of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances; and lastly to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defense. And all these rights and liberties it is our birthright to enjoy entire;unless where the laws of our country have laid them under necessary restraints.” (Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 1, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1775)

Blackstone was very nearly quoting the 1689 Bill of English Rights which stated:

7. That the subjects which are protestants, may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law. (emphasis added)

As you can see, Barton removed the references to the qualifications mentioned by the English Bill of Rights and cited by Blackstone.  Clearly, the English Bill of Rights influenced the framers and delineated a set of rights for a free people. While Blackstone considered the right to possess arms to be a natural right restricted only under “very grave consideration,” he also allowed that the right could be subject to “necessary restraints.”

Barton fans who read here: help me understand why Barton omitted these sections.  How can one get a complete picture of the history of the Second Amendment if relevant portions of historical writing are omitted? By not including these phrases, what meaning is conveyed?  Does his presentation of Blackstone provide the truth about Blackstone’s position?

Finally, let me point you to a recent post from Rodda on gun accidents. Barton told Glenn Beck that he could only find two gun accidents in two hundred years of history.

“I have searched and in the founding era I think I’ve only ever found two gun accidents, and everybody was hauling guns back then. You took your guns to church — you were required by state law in some states to take your guns to church. We didn’t have accidents because everyone was familiar with how to use them. It’s not being familiar that makes it dangerous.”

On the face of it, this seems preposterous. Rodda did a little digging and found many more. Go read her long, sad list.

Barton’s other recent problems relating to gun issues include possibly pulling stories from Western novels, incorrectly stating Ronald Reagan’s position on the Brady Bill or claiming the NRA was founded in part to fight back against the KKK.

 

  • James Ferguson

    Homicides only represent about a third of gun-related deaths per year. Suicides and accidental deaths bring the total gun-related deaths to over 30,000 per year, which puts them virtually on par with car-related deaths. This is utterly staggering, and demonstrates the very real danger of guns in the house, not to mention as side arms carried openly in public, as is the case in several states. How Barton and others can continue to make their absurd claims with any moral conscience is beyond me!

  • Patrocles

    I suppose that American citizens have a right to kill themselves. (As long as the U.S. are NOT a theocracy.) Or don’t they?

    In this case, having the means for suicide is a precondition for to use that right.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      Pat – Sometimes you really uncork one.

      In three states, terminally ill people who have a rational suicide wish can take deadly drugs with the assistance of a physician. Otherwise, medical professionals have a duty to prevent suicide and a person may be detained in a hospital to prevent it.

  • sbh

    J. L. Bell at Boston 1775 also had a short piece on “Gun Accidents in the Founding Era” here: http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2013/02/gun-accidents-in-founding-era.html

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      sbh – Thanks for the link…

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Blackstone and guns. For adults only:

    http://www.davekopel.com/2A/LawRev/It_Isn't_About_Duck_Hunting.htm

    Self-defense is a natural right. Further, the 2nd Amendment was a response to the British crown trying to confiscate colonists’ guns, and to its disarming the citizenry of Britain under hunting laws.

    In earlier times, prominent American legal commentators tended to view the British right to arms as barely worth the paper on which it was written. St. George Tucker, author of the American version of Blackstone’s Commentaries[2] and the legal commentator most often cited by the U.S. Supreme Court for a quarter of a century,[3] claimed that “[w]hoever examines the forest, and game laws in the British code, will readily perceive that the right of keeping arms is effectually taken away from the people of England.”[4] Moreover, claimed Tucker, “not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.”[5]

    “Necessary restraints?”

    And all these rights and liberties it is our birthright to enjoy entire; unless where the laws of our country have laid them under necessary restraints.” (Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 1, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1775)

    Necessary restraints. But not gun bans. Self-defense is a natural right, and even a “living Constitution” will have to admit that if you don’t have a decent gun, you have no means of self-defense.

    Barton fans who read here: help me understand why Barton omitted these sections.

    For the same reason his critics omit the parts he got right, Warren. Barton looks for things that support his position. His critics look for things to douchebag him on.

    Did he get any parts right? Did he get ANY parts right?

    In the end, the only honest question is whether he got Blackstone more wrong or right. The only principled question, anyway, unless the purpose is to leave the reader more confused than when he started reading the post.

  • Zoe Brain

    Re Blackstone: One enormous oversight: “arms” did not just or even primarily mean firearms at the time. Swords, halberds etc were included, and the primary weapons of the Scots in the ’45. As late as 1815, NCOs were issued with half-pikes rather than muskets.

  • James Ferguson

    Tom, you hit on the point that led to the second amendment in the first place, fear of English reprisal after the War of Independence. The US also feared French, Spanish and Indian attacks, so having weapons was considered a must at the time, and the Bill of Rights provided for it. However, given that universal suffrage didn’t occur until the 20th century, it is pretty same to presume that the Founding Fathers didn’t imagine women or blacks owning guns, much less being part of any state militia. Now, we have over 300 million guns in circulation in the US, with just about anyone being able to land his or her hands on one at any time. It has become a major security risk, yet here are buffoons like Barton still citing the Second Amendment, and idiots like Larry Ward claiming that if blacks had access to guns there might never had been slavery.

    It doesn’t seem like Barton has gone so far as to equate gun rights with the civil rights movement as have many on the right, but I imagine he will soon do so. These guys grasp for anything in their defense of stockpiling their private arsenals.

  • Scotty G.

    Having read the post by Rodda at length, I must say that it was defiantly an eye opening read for me. Not the pointed specifics about Barton’s distortions of the historical facts; that’s simply his M.O. No, what actually stuck me so profoundly was the distinct possibility that the second amendment is being grossly misinterpreted.

    Reading Rodda’s article, I’m reminded of Gov. Whitemarsh Seabrook of ante-bellum South Carolina. He admitted during early civil rights controversies of 1833 that anybody who would allow slaves to read the whole Bible should be committed to a Lunatic Asylum. His fear? That contemporary slaves would come to understand the larger context of the biblical message, rather then the piecemeal segments passed on to them about the many verses regulating (read ‘permitting’) slavery.

    But eventually slaves got to hear the whole Bible instead of just isolated and mistreated passages about slaves obeying masters, and they began to find out that there is a whole lot more to the Bible than that which their masters had been battering them.

    In some way I guess I owe Barton a big hefty ‘Thanks’. Had it not been for his aggressive misinterpretation of historical documents, I may never have had the good fortune to read the documents in their entirety. And what a picture they paint; a new perspective on the original meaning of the term ‘to bear arms’, the shear number of state constitutions proclaiming the rights of the people to bear arms for the specific purpose of protecting their homes only (not walking around town perpetually packing heat), but also coupling this right with the legislatures right to ‘regulate the exercise of this right by law’.

    I’ve never been of the opinion that those who want gun regulation want to ‘take away everyone’s guns’, but even so, I’ve always basically dismissed the suggestion. After reading this article I am somewhat more open to the idea.

    Now, having said that, I am still highly skeptical of what good more aggressive gun regulation would accomplish. It seems to me that any regulation will just keep more guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens. As the saying goes, ‘locked doors only keep the honest people out’. This would leave the general population as ‘sheep for the slaughter’. There are countless stories never told of good people stopping criminals by wielding a gun of their own. In many of these instances they don’t even need to fire the gun as brandishing it is enough to send the message to the perpetrators that they are not easy targets.

    Obviously this is going to require wiser heads then my own, we need to see varying proposals, with quantifiable evidence they will accomplish the desired outcome and not exacerbate it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Scotty G – Well said. Your take on things is close to mine although I think the research is pretty clear that guns around the house actually cost more lives than they save.

    In any case, the events which have stimulated the current debate are not likely to be prevented by gun laws alone. Without a serious reform of the way we deal with mental illness, these events (e.g., school shootings) will keep happening. Nothing will prevent them altogether but the most direct response to those events is to address the issue behind many of them – untreated/poorly treated and recognized psychosis.

  • Patrocles

    Scotty G,

    It seems rather trivial, that legislatures have a right “to regulate the exercise” of basic human rights. And some kind of regulation has existed from the beginning. But the decisive question is: How far can such regulations go without undermining the basic right itself?

    That’s a question which was answered rather clearly in my country’s (German) constitutional law. 1. A basic right may only be regulated in order to protect another basic right. 2. But even that regulation must not touch the core of the basic right in question.

    Of course, the term “core” seems still somewhat vague, but it’s really useful to reflect and discuss what’s at the core of the different basic rights. What’s their use for the individual? What’s their use for the community? If we don’t make this clear, any regulation ends in the undermining of the right in question.

    I’ve made that point once before, when I spoke about the freedom of expression (and the scandalous way the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses all ways of restricting this freedom without asking first, or at any time: What’s the use of this freedom for the individual and the community?)

  • Patrocles

    Warren,

    but it’s an interesting question. A radical humanist would say that no one has more right to decide about a man’s life than that man himself. A defender of theocracy can claim that God who spent life has more right to take it than the man himself. (In fact, I’m not a defender of theocracy, but that’s one of the best arguments for theocracy i know.)

    Modern liberal societies use to pretend that a person who wants to be dead must be insane; but isn’t that a mere way to circumvent the problem?

  • Scotty G.

    Warren,

    I’ve read your more recent thoughts regarding mental illness and gun regulation. I believe at face value it seems logical. And if implemented properly, could potentially have a large impact in at least preventing the massacres making the headlines of late. Your vocation probably allows you a better insight then most. But I see a lot of hurdles in its execution. I guess I’m just not sure how it would be done. Submitting to psychoanalysis at the time of license application? Periodic reviews? What is the baseline for passing and what are the odds of false diagnosis? And lastly of course, who would oversee this and how would it be paid for?

    Again, maybe you have a clearer picture of how this would look.

  • Scotty G.

    Patrocles,

    I don’t disagree with your statement. One right ends where another begins. But as the articles mentioned in the original post suggest, it may not be established that an individual has the right to carry a firearm with them in public at will.

    There are numerous rights we have within the confines of our home that are curtailed or rescinded when we are in public. It could be argued that it is ones right and even responsibility to protect their home. But in public that right and responsibility belongs to the local and federal authority which also regulates that responsibility (i.e. have trained professionals).

    I have a co-worker whose husband owns several guns. He had her get a license as well even though he is the enthusiast. I idly asked if she had to pass some kind of competency test (comparable to getting a drivers license) since I honestly didn’t know. The answer was no. You just fill out an application and submit to a back ground check. Upon passing, you can now own a deadly weapon.

    Police officers go through months of training to learn how to handle a weapon (not to mention the additional months learning how to react in a crisis situation). John Q. Citizen doesn’t even have to prove he knows how to use one. At this point I think the general population has the right to be safe from the ineptitude of John Q. while in public.

    Admittedly, most people who travel in public know more then John Q. But how many have crises situation training and experience.

    Again there are no easy answers, and as I stated above, there are plenty of examples of good Samaritans saving lives by having a gun in their possession. I am just thinking that I can no longer listen to the ‘right to bear arms’ mantra without a more critical mindset.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    I think you’ll find that [even] Justice Scalia allows that the states have a right to regulate firearms*. But I would argue that to ban them would be a violation of the natural right of self-defense, something that exists pre-politically, before the Constitution, even if the 2nd Amendment did not exist.

    As for carrying firearms in public, I see that as consistent with the 18th century concept of “militia”–EVERYBODY is a member of the militia, and indeed there was a prejudice against the idea of standing armies.

    I’m quite comfortable with a state where everybody’s armed, and if some joker starts a massacre, the people are carrying the firepower to shoot him back.

    OTOH, I don’t think it’s unconstitutional for a state to ban such things either, as long as this regulation doesn’t abridge the natural right to self-defense.

    I would add that if, as the Declaration says, man has an unalienable right to life and liberty, the populace has a right to keep and bear arms not just against criminals, but against the tyranny of government as well. Although this seems alarmist in 2013, it wasn’t that long ago that blacks were terrorized by Night Riders and the local governments not only did nothing, they often aided and abetted them.

    *http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/why-liberals-should-thank-justice-scalia-for-gun-control-20130119

    “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. [United States v.] Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

    —Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Rodda points out that Barton chopped up Blackstone’s citation to remove the qualifications on the right to keep and bear arms.

    Coincidentally, I just ran across some old notes on Roe v. Wade

    In his majority opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun cites Blackstone on [post-quickening] abortion, that it was a “misdemeanor.”

    What Blackmun left out was that Blackstone actually wrote “hideous misdemeanor.” Ironic, eh, Warren?

    Barton fans who read here: help me understand why Barton omitted these sections. How can one get a complete picture of the history of the Second Amendment if relevant portions of historical writing are omitted? By not including these phrases, what meaning is conveyed? Does his presentation of Blackstone provide the truth about Blackstone’s position?

    No excuses for Barton here, but he’s the Toy Dept. next to the man who wrote Roe, abusing history [and Blackstone] in the process. I suppose that’s what irks me the most about the Barton thing, that so much energy is put into such a small fry. There are so much bigger fish, much more influential lies and liars out there for the conscientious and diligent soul to correct.

    http://hnn.us/articles/justin-dyer-fictional-abortion-history

    “Justin Dyer teaches political science at the University of Missouri. He is the author, most recently, of Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press).

    “Forty years after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, prominent historians and lawyers continue to rely on a narrative history that is based on two demonstrably false premises: (1) abortion was a common-law liberty at the time of the American founding and (2) the primary purpose of anti-abortion laws in the 19th century was to protect women rather than the lives of unborn children. In the 1960s and 1970s, lawyers trying to build a case against century-old state abortion statutes trumpeted these two claims, all the while knowing they were false…”


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X