Carrying of arms
Jefferson copied many excerpts from the various books he read into his “Legal Commonplace Book.” One passage he copied which touches on gun control was from Cesare Beccaria‘s Essay on Crimes and Punishments. The passage, which is written in Italian, discusses the “false idea of utility” (false idee di utilità) which Beccaria saw as underlying some laws. It can be translated, in part, as:
A principal source of errors and injustice are false ideas of utility. For example: that legislator has false ideas of utility … 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. … 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.
Jefferson’s only notation was, “False idee di utilità.” It isn’t known whether Jefferson agreed with the example Beccaria used, or with the general idea, or if he had some other reason for copying the passage.
What an extraordinarily articulate and educated man this was: I never knew. You learn something new and exciting every day, as you get older and older – I only looked him up out of interest as I was arguing with a student about the exact contents of the USA’s Declaration of Independence.