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The Founders, Not The NRA, Originated The "Myth" ...By Stephen P. Halbrook

Monday, September 11, 2000

Historian Michael Bellesiles has recently attempted to revise history by claiming that few people owned guns at the time the Constitution was written. Basing his work on probate records in limited areas, he then concludes that since few people owned guns the founding fathers couldn`t have intended the Second Amendment to be an individual right. Attorney Stephen P. Halbrook responds to this claim.

Stephen Halbrook is a respected attorney who has successfully argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has written numerous articles and books on the Second Amendment and is a tireless campaigner for the individual right to bear arms. For more information about Halbrook and his writings visit his website at www.stephenhalbrook.com/.

So, argues Michael Bellesiles in Arming America, it was the Great Satan NRA which invented the myth that the Founders were armed and free, when in reality almost no one in those days owned a firearm. For a reality check, what the Founders actually said is superior to inferences piled upon inferences from probate records.

Charles Lee, the influential Revolutionary patriot, wrote in an article published throughout the colonies in 1775: "The yeomanry of America besides infinite advantages over the peasantry of other countries, are accustomed from their infancy to firearms; they are expert in the use of them. Whereas the lower and middle people of England, are, by the tyranny of certain laws, almost as ignorant in the use of a musket, as they are of the ancient Catapulta." (Halbrook, A Right to Bear Arms, Greenwood Press, 1989, p. 11.)

John Zubly`s Great Britain`s Right to Tax . . . By A Swiss (1775), an influential pamphlet in the colonies, heralded the American militiamen`s stand at Lexington against British regulars and deplored General Gage`s tricking of the people of Boston into surrendering some of their arms on a false promise to allow them to depart the city. Zubly noted that "in a strong sense of liberty, and the use of fire-arms almost from the cradle, the Americans have vastly the advantage over men of their rank almost every where else."

And then there is James Madison, who in The Federalist (1788) contended that "the ultimate authority . . . resides in the people alone." Should tyranny emerge, to a regular army of the United States government "would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands." Alluding to "the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation," Madison continued: "Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." For lots more of the same, see Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right (Oakland, Ca.: Independent Institute, 1994).

Did the Founders live in a fantasy world, or does Michael Bellesiles?

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.