Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thomas Jefferson NEVER Said This!

Of late the gun-phobic segment of our recrimination-riven and now perpetually neurotic and fear-mongering and guilt-mongering society has seen fit to pursue its very narrow-minded and backward-thinking agenda. This intellectually-bankrupt and societally-destructive agenda is more about sticking a finger in the eye of cultural conservatives than actually solving any real-world problems. In response to this Neo-Liberal tomfoolery has emerged a push-back by people often not much more intellectually-gifted or factually-supported whom occupy the cultural-political Right. Some of them have been sharing with their friends in  "chain emails" as well as with their "friends" on Facebook the following quote falsely attributed to President Thomas Jefferson:

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed one."

The only problem is that this is an English translation of a quote from Italian philosopher and jurist Cesare Beccaria's Essay on Crimes and Punishments written in Italian in 1764. Thomas Jefferson featured it in his Legal Commonplace Book later in his life. That Jefferson included it in his own book and the note he placed with it does nothing to dispel the notion that he agreed with its logic does not diminish the point the gun lobby attempts to make from it, but it is important to dispel myths in this case and deal squarely with the historical facts. The quote above was derived from the more complete translated excerpt by Beccaria below:

"A principal source of errors and injustice are false ideas of utility. For example: that legislator has false ideas of utility who considers particular more than general conveniencies, who had rather command the sentiments of mankind than excite them, who dares say to reason, 'Be thou a slave;' who would sacrifice a thousand real advantages to the fear of an imaginary or trifling inconvenience; who would deprive men of the use of fire for fear of their being burnt, and of water for fear of their being drowned; and who knows of no means of preventing evil but by destroying it. The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be supposed, that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and arbitrary injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance? Does not the execution of this law deprive the subject of that personal liberty, so dear to mankind and to the wise legislator? and does it not subject the innocent to all the disagreeable circumstances that should only fall on the guilty? It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse, and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons."
I personally feel this is a great example of well-articulated logical deductive reasoning coming from the immediate aftermath of the Age of Reason and shining light into this new Age of Irrationality. 


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