Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.
- Tench Coxe, A friend of James Madison and himself a Delegate to the Continental Congress, writing in support of the Madison’s first draft of the Bill of Rights, 1789.
Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.
- James Madison, Federalist No. 46, January 29, 1788
A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include, according to the past and general usuage of the states, all men capable of bearing arms… “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.
- Richard Henry Lee, Federal Farmer No. 18, January 25, 1788
The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.
- Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833
The founders were big believers in natural rights. The Bill of Rights did not grant us any rights, it recognized preexisting inalienable rights. The Supreme Court confirmed this way back in 1876:
The right there specified is that of “bearing arms for a lawful purpose.” This is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. [READ THAT LAST SENTENCE TWICE] The second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed, but this, as has been seen, means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress
- United States v. Cruikshank