On November 3, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, a case challenging the constitutionality under the Second Amendment of a New York law regulating the concealed carry of firearms in public. The petitioners, led by the NRA’s New York affiliate, have placed significant weight on a seemingly minor issue of historical fact: whether prominent members of the founding generation carried guns – but a new analysis from Everytown Law calls their claims into question. See more below.
- The petitioners’ claims that George Washington “carried firearms and supported the right to do so” are based on the papers of a plantation owner who was three years old when Washington died. The anecdote described in these papers – if true – would only have three witnesses: Washington, his servant, and a “ruffian.” And the accompanying anecdotes — including an outlandish story about Washington winning a contest for a wife by jumping the furthest — make clear that their author wrote to entertain, not to inform.
- The petitioners’ claims about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are similarly weak. Jefferson’s recommendation to “[l]et your gun … be the constant companion of your walks” self-evidently referred to hunting and recreation, not to carrying a gun for self-defense in populated areas as part of everyday life – as is the focus of the petitioners’ argument. And the quotation from Adams’s argument on behalf of British soldiers he was defending against murder charges ignores that he was speaking of taking up arms in the context of defending against a riot—and likewise ignores his role as a lawyer.
- Ultimately, even if the petitioners had located sound evidence that Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Henry, or other founders made it their practice to carry guns in public for self-defense, that still would have no bearing on the Second Amendment question. As Justice Thomas has explained, “the simple fact that the Framers engaged in certain conduct does not necessarily prove that they forbade its prohibition by the government.” But Petitioners’ inability to muster more than historically dubious citations for an issue they appear to believe is highly significant raises serious questions about the quality of other historical work in their submissions.
Read Everytown Law’s amicus brief here. Legal experts from Everytown Law are available for interviews ahead of oral argument.