The Founding Fathers are frequently quoted in the gun control debate, but many of those quotations turn out to be fake.
The most popular comment on a recent story about gun control featured a purported quotation from Thomas Jefferson. More than 2,000 votes pushed it to the top.
"When governments fear the people, there is liberty," reads the quotation. "When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."
The same quotation has been posted dozens of times in other readers' posts. Some readers worked to debunk it by mentioning Monticello.org, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's website, which has a section devoted to "spurious" quotations that have been attributed to the third president of the United States. The website lists several variations of the quotation, featured on two pages, and says staff "have not found any evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote" those words.
The GunCite website includes quotations from the founding fathers, but has pages for debunked and reliable remarks. Site creator Howard Picard said the quotes help explain the Constitution's meaning.
"There are politicians, scholars, jurists, and others who don't believe the Second Amendment was intended to preserve and guarantee an individual right to arms outside of active militia duty," Picard said. "Some go as far as to claim firearms ownership was solely a collective right."
He said the quotes show that the Second Amendment was intended to protect not only a "vigorous individual right" but also "to serve as a check against an usurpation of our government."
Saul Cornell, a professor at Fordham University, said some quotations may need context, especially those from the "losing side" of debates. He added that he believes both sides of the gun conversation tend to oversimplify the Founding Fathers' historical intent.
"Without being too professorial about it," he said, "depending on what theory of the Constitution we use, you can get very different interpretations of the Second Amendment."