With the recent Supreme Court Bruen (New York gun case) decision, I thought it would be a good idea to check in with a couple of gents who were around when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett agreed to a short interview.
LM: How old were you when the Bill of Rights was ratified?
Boone: I was about thirty-seven year old. We had fought the Redcoats and won our independence from King George. We started calling ourselves citizens, not subjects. That war had actually begun on April 13, 1775, over a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed. It started with the (British) government trying to confiscate our guns. General Gage had sent his troops from Boston to Concord, MA. Our folks up there said,"NO!"
I was in Kentucky at the time. we had just built a fort we named Boonesborough on the Kentucky River.
That war went on for six long years, until British General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown in 1781.
Ten years later, in 1791, Washington, D.C. was selected as our capital, and the Bill of Rights was ratified.
Crockett: I was only about five when it was ratified, so I don't recollect that event personally. But I do know that as I grew up, our guns were pretty much an extension of our arms. Ol' Betsy (video) went everywhere with me.
LM: The first part of the Second Amendment states, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, . . ."
What does that mean to you?
Boone: We considered the militia to be all able bodied men of "fighting age". But that didn't prevent older or younger folks from joining. A good example is the patriots I mentioned in Massachusetts. They, as expected, were able to answer the call to turn out against the Redcoats who had come to confiscate their weapons. These militiamen were "well regulated" in that they had been drilling and training with their personal firearms. They kept a supply of powder and balls for their guns, and some were able to answer the call so quickly that they became known as Minutemen.
Crockett: I first served in the militia when I was about 19. I served as a militia scout under Major Gibson in Winchester, Tennessee. We fought Indians who had attacked Fort Mimms, Alabama. I showed up with my gear, which included my rifle and ammunition. That was about 1813, as I recall.
LM: The second part of the Second Amendment states, ". . . the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
What does that mean to you?
Boone: Well, the guys in Philadelphia, and later Washington were pretty smart when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. There was a lot of debate back and forth on all those documents, before the final drafts were ratified and published. The Bill of Rights, as you know, consists of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Some folks, who have been trying to make up history in your time, contend that the people in the Second Amendment means the "organized militia" or what you know as the National Guard. But like I said, they were pretty smart. They initially used the words the people in the First Amendment, where it included, ". . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Crockett: Yes, and in the Fourth Amendment, it states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, . . ."
Boone: Then, in the Ninth Amendment, it states, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Crockett: They also included it in the Tenth Amendment, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Boone: It would be plumb foolish to think that a plain language reading of the Bill of Rights would have a meaning of the people in the Second different from what it had in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments.
Crockett: Yep, these revisionists who are trying to make the people in the Second Amendment apply to some gov'ment agency like the National Guard are trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Or maybe they are just not capable of logical reasoning.
LM: To you, what does the word infringed in the Second Amendment mean?
Boone: Just look at Webster's dictionary of 1828. It means To break; to violate; to transgress; to neglect to fulfill or obey; as, to infringe a law. . .
Crockett: You can compare that to the word abridged in the First Amendment, which means To lessen; to diminish; . . . as to abridge power of rights. There's not a dime's worth of difference between those two words.
LM: Back in your days, there were Slave Codes in many of the states. Later we had Black Codes enacted after the Civil War. Then in 1911, New York passed the Sullivan Law, which is the one addressed in the Bruen case.
In 1934, we got the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act was passed in 1968. There have been lots of gun registration and prohibition laws passed since then by both the Federal Government and many states. In your opinion, are any of those constitutional?
Boone: The men who wrote the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights kept those documents as simple as possible, so you did not need a law degree to understand. Lawyers, judges, and legislatures have done their best to make understanding of these foundational documents difficult.
Crockett: Son, let me explain to you how simple it is. Hold the Constitution and its Bill of Rights in one hand. Now, hold any of those laws you just mentioned in your other hand. Does the law contradict the Constitution? Then it is unconstitutional.
Boone: Don't forget, the core meaning of the Second Amendment is to provide a deterrent to a despotic government. If all else fails, then the Declaration of Independence tells us where to go from there.
LM: Do you think the Court is on the right track with this Bruen ruling, in which Justice Thomas wrote,
"The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.
New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
Boone: Definitely on the right track, but with a ways to go. It looks like a bunch of lawyers will have employment for years getting more of those infringements removed.
Crockett: Here's a reminder for you. From 1791 until 1968, anyone could buy a gun without any gov'ment paperwork.
Patrick Henry foretold my future at the Alamo when he ended his speech at Richmond in 1775 with, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
LM: Gentlemen, thank you so much for giving your historical perspective on this serious liberty issue.
*Daniel Boone was born in 1734 and Davy Crockett was born in 1786. Both these historical figures were around when the Bill of Rights was ratified. Boone served in the Virginia General Assembly; and Crockett served in the Tennessee Legislature and represented Tennessee in Congress.