Conservative Media's Spurious Thomas Jefferson Gun Quote Becomes Ben Carson Talking Point

Carson: Thomas Jefferson Said, “Gun Control ... All It Does Is Put The People At Risk”

A quotation popular in conservative media circles that allegedly demonstrates Thomas Jefferson opposed the regulation of firearms was repeated by GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson when he was asked on Fox News to react to the October 1 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College. The quote, however, has been identified as “spurious” by research compiled by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

When asked by Fox News host Neil Cavuto whether or not the regulation of firearms offers a solution to mass shootings on the October 5 broadcast of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Carson claimed, “Thomas Jefferson himself said, 'Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens and it does nothing for the criminals, and all it does is put the people at risk.'”

Carson was likely misattributing the following quote, which was written by Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria and copied by Jefferson into a journal:

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 Jefferson Monticello website, maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, lists the quote as “spurious” when attributed to the former president because there is no clear annotation to suggest Jefferson agreed or disagreed with the claim.

Jefferson copied the Beccaria quote in Italian into his legal commonplace book, a “journal or notebook in which a student, reader, or writer compiles quotations, poems, letters, and information, along with the compiler's notes and reactions.” Jefferson notated the copied passage with the words, “False idee di utilità,” which is a summation of the idea contained in the quotation.

According to Right Wing Watch, Carson made a similar claim about Jefferson during an October 2 appearance on conservative Jan Mickelson's radio show.

Carson's talking point is popular within gun rights circles and conservative media outlets that cover gun policy. Conservative radio host Dana Loesch included the quote, as well as several other deceptively edited Founding Father quotes, in her book Hands Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America, with the false suggestion that Jefferson was quoting Becceria approvingly.