David Barton Supports Texas Concealed Carry Gun Bill with Half the Story

The other half of the story undermines his position.

On his WallbuildersLive program today, David Barton got sidetracked from the topic of recess appointments and on to guns on campus. During a break in his discussion with Rick Green, a child read a citation from Thomas Jefferson where Jefferson said persons should be “at all times armed” (about 12:05 into the mp3). Barton got excited about those words which reminded him of something Jefferson had a hand in deciding regarding students at the University of Virginia.

Barton: I’m now intrigued with “at all times armed”

Green: Hey, we need to do a whole program on that.

Barton: Man!

Green: That’s a great example, you not only want to defend yourself from you know some attacker on the street, but a tyrannical government, hey just make sure everybody knows citizens are armed.

Barton: I gotta tell you, this happened just this week. We’re always looking through original documents, finding new things. It’s kind of like the Bible, the BIble describes itself as unsearchable to get to the bottom of all of the knowledge that’s there. Just this week, in looking at Jefferson and the University of Virginia, ’cause we’ve dealt with that in the book Jefferson Lies, going through that looking at what he did in teaching religion there. But we also found Jefferson, at the University of Virginia, required that every single student go through gun exercises at the University of Virginia. If you’re going to go to his university, you’re going to have to know how to use the gun, learn how to use the gun. You had to know how to be militia, they took you through military exercises as well. That’s kinda like an ROTC program; every single student.  And I thought, you know, we’re talking about here in Texas, doing something like campus carry or something else. Wouldn’t that drive the liberals crazy to find that Jefferson required every student on campus to go through gun training and  guns and use guns and etc.

Green: Man, that’s a great point. We gotta get that to our good friend Senator Birdwell, trying to get that done in Texas…

Barton: I did. I sent it to the Senate and House and said, ‘hey guys, here’s some ammunition for your “campus carry” bill.

Green: No pun intended, right? And now they can say, Jefferson wanted every kid on campus to be armed; we’re just asking for the ones that want to be.

I suspect what Barton is referring to is a section of the minutes of an October 24, 1824 meeting of the Visitors (trustees) of the University of Virginia where the Visitors decided the student code of conduct. In that section, there is a description of required military exercises:

A military instructor shall be provided at the expense of the University, to be appointed by the faculty, who shall attend on every Saturday from half after one o’clock to half after three p.m., and shall instruct the students in the manual exercise, in field evolutions, manoeuvres, and encampments. The students shall attend these exercises and shall be obedient to the military orders of their instructor. The roll shall be regularly called over by him at the hour of meeting, absences and insubordinations shall be noted and the list of the delinquents shall be delivered to the presiding member of the faculty, for the time being to be animadverted on by the faculty and such minor punishment imposed as each case shall in their discretion require. The school of modern languages shall be pretermitted on the days of actual military exercise.

Substitutes in the form of arms shall be provided by the proctor, at the expense of the University; they shall be distinguished by numbers delivered out, received in and deposited under the care and responsibility of the instructor in a proper depository to be furnished him; and all injuries to them by a student shall be repaired at the expense of such student.  (450-451)

As a means of getting exercise, students were required to drill and learn military maneuvers. Note that the guns (perhaps not even loaded guns – I am checking the meaning of the phrase “substitutes in the form of arms”) were to be owned and kept by the school, and not by the student. That students were not to have guns on campus was made clear several pages earlier in the report.

In addition to guidelines on exercise, the subject of gun possession on campus was addressed by the Visitors, and not in a way that supports the idea that students should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus. The report states:

No student shall within the precincts of the University introduce, keep, or use any spirituous, or vinous liquors, keep or use weapons or arms of any kind, or gunpowder, keep a servant horse or dog, appear in school with a stick, or any weapon, nor while in school, be covered without permission of the professor, nor use tobacco by smoking or chewing on pain of any of the minor punishments at the discretion of the faculty or of the board of censors approved by the faculty. (p. 447)

A bit earlier in the minutes, the subject was first addressed:

No student shall admit any disturbing noises in his room, or make them anywhere within the precincts of the University, or fire a gun or pistol within the same on pain of such minor sentence as the faculty shall decree or approve. But the proper use of musical instruments shall be freely allowed in their rooms and in that appropriated for instruction in music. (p. 446)

Thus, the contention that being “at all times armed” had no exception is not accurate. The UVA code of conduct as drafted by Jefferson and his colleagues forbid guns on campus.

It will be interesting to see if Senator Birdwell uses Barton’s faulty information to support his bill, which, according to this report, would prohibit colleges from banning guns from campus when carried by licensed owners.

If such a bill had passed in Jefferson’s day, the UVA Visitors would have had to rewrite their rules.

In any event, the experiment in physical education via military drilling wasn’t a success. A UVA Alumni publication years later described the response and the demise of the program (see page 24).

The military company organized under this enactment continued in existence for several years. A uniform was prescribed and arms were provided. But the students, as a rule, detested the one and misused the other. Appearing out of uniform at unseasonable times and improper places was a frequent offence, and the admonitions and punishments inflicted on the offenders caused vehement complaints. The system at last became odious to all concerned, and Jefferson’s pet plan of securing the physical culture of his students was by solemn resolution abolished.

This passage gives a clue (although does not prove) that the guns were real guns. Note, however, the description of them being misused with the eventual outcome that the program was abolished. All told, Jefferson’s experiment at UVA isn’t a great foundation for talking points in favor of a concealed carry bill.

"It's ironic how the people with apparently high IQ's are encouraging the flood of immigrants ..."

Trump Religious Advisor Robert Jeffress: Nothing ..."
"My apologies Greg, I stand corrected and heartened. Missed your intent entirely. Yes, hopefully this ..."

Mark Driscoll Gets His Charisma On
"He presented no evidence. You can't show anything he presented that ties the founding of ..."

Was the National Rifle Association started ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tom Van Dyke

    I suspect what Barton is referring to is a section of the minutes of an October 24, 1824 meeting of the Visitors (trustees) of the University of Virginia

    Very nice, Warren. In my experience, David Barton’s always got some germ of truth [or secondary-source disinformation] that he goes off and running with. He doesn’t exactly make stuff up.

    Actually, I love the idea of mandatory gun [safety*] training at college campuses. The no-booze, no-tobacco etc. rules, not so much.


    *Got my NRA-sponsored training and patch at Boy Scout camp at 13. 20 years later, I’m teaching Mrs. TVD the gun safety that I’d learned as a kid, how to hold a gun, loaded or unloaded. Pointed to the side, toward the ground.

    And damned if there wasn’t a shell in the chamber of the shotgun I thought was empty. And damned if I didn’t set it off. Blew a hole in the floor. But not in a human being. If we can give


    I reckon we can fit gun safety into the curriculum at some point, eh?

  • Lynn David

    I believe that Jefferson also said, “In these professional schools each science is to be taught in the highest degree it has yet attained.” But then look what Texas has tried to do to biology and geology.

    My guess is that by substitutes is meant a fake wooden gun for drilling. But such wooden substitutes generally did not come to be common until after the Civil War.

  • Zoe Brain

    Substitutes in the form of arms shall be provided by the proctor, at the expense of the University;

    These days they’d be painted blue. That’s how wooden drill rifles and other non-firing training equipment is marked in the military.

    An alternative for paramilitary forces is all-red.

    Here’s an example of “substitutes in the form of arms”


    “The Red Gun Series is lightweight and readily distinguishable as a training weapon. In addition, the extreme detail and precision manufacture of these training devices allows their use in weapon retention and holster security drills.

    All too frequently, law enforcement officers have been killed in a training environment with “unloaded” firearms. Red handled weapons can be confused with live firearms when held in the hand. Aluminum castings are heavy and cannot be distinguished from stainless weapons at a distance. The Red Gun Series is lightweight and readily identified as a training weapon.

    In addition, the extreme detail and precision manufacture of these training devices allows their use in weapon retention and holster security drills. The red polymer and the manner in which they are reinforced allows them to withstand the daily abuses of the training environment.”

    In 1824, such items as wooden blanks in the shape of muskets, wooden swords and so on would be used. Damage to such items would be easily repairable by a local carpenter – often by making a new one.

    Certainly it would be both cheaper for a University, and much, much safer, to have such training substitutes instead of real firearms.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Man that Barton is such a liar isn’t he!

  • Mary

    I wonder if he knows that he is lying. He may actually believe in his “research”. Some people do.

  • Don Williams

    1) Hi — I graduated from the University of Virginia. The Honor Code was established there after a masked student shot and killed one of the professors in 1840. Er..under cover of darkness.

    The shooting arose out of a quarrel tied to the suppression of an armed student revolt in 1836 –by 63 members of the Student Military Company — put down by the local state militia.





    2) The students are adults and the University has no control over student quarters in the town of Charlottesville itself. The famous Confederate guerilla leader John Mosby was expelled from the University after he shot and killed a violent local bully. See