Thomas Jefferson on Gun Rights

A real Thomas Jefferson statement about bearing arms is frequently shared along with a sentence never written by the former president.

  • Published 22 June 2016

Claim

Thomas Jefferson wrote that "the strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms" is to "protect themselves against tyranny in government."

Rating

Origin

A statement about the right to bear arms, purportedly written by Thomas Jefferson (the third President of the United States), has been circulating online for several years. Although a portion of the quote originated with Jefferson, it has been attached to a phrase that cannot be directly linked to the former president:

thomas jefferson quote

The phrase “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms” shows up in a draft of a proposed Virginia constitution in 1776. Subsequent drafts included the bracketed qualifier that “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements].” Although this sentence did not find its way into the final version of the Virginia state constitution, it is documented in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

The sentence “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government” appears to be a modern augmentation. It does not appear to date back much further than its publication in a 1989 pro-Second Amendment newspaper column by Charlie Reese, and it is certainly not found among Jefferson’s recorded writings, letters, or speeches:

This sentence is often seen paired with the following: “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” That sentence does not appear in the Virginia Constitution drafts or text as adopted, nor in any other Jefferson writings that we know of.

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