James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms, unfortunately wasn’t around to weigh in on the recent legislative debate over whether firearms should be allowed on college campuses.
But he did attend a meeting of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, on which he served, in October 1824 when that very same issue came up. The minutes of that meeting report the following decision of the governing body:
“No Student shall, within the precincts of the University…keep or use weapons or arms of any kind, or gunpowder.”
Another member of the Board of Visitors who was present was Thomas Jefferson, another one of the nation’s founders who doubtlessly also had an opinion of what the Second Amendment did and didn’t mean.
The lengthy minutes, linked below, don’t reflect what, if anything, Madison or Jefferson may have said about the issue. But I can’t imagine that the campus gun ban would have been adopted without the agreement of the two former U.S. presidents.
The other members of the governing board “didn’t have to look far for an originalist perspective” on the Second Amendment, wrote Matt Valentine, who teaches writing and photography at the University of Texas at Austin. Valentine’s article in Politico, “Texas Just Made College Less Safe,” called the historic anecdote to my attention.
Modern politicians of all stripes like to claim – regardless of how hare-brained their ideas – that they are carrying out the intentions of “our forefathers.” In truth, though, the guns-galore crowd behind Texas’ soon-to-be campus carry and open carry laws doesn’t really care what our founders would have done. Nor, obviously, do they care that much about campus safety.