Debating guns with conservatives often presents obstacles not encountered in normal, fact-based discussions. And so it was last Friday night as liberal former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green debated guns with Fox's Sean Hannity (Hannity, 1/4/13.)
To make the case that gun ownership was not just a right, but something akin to a sacrament, Hannity quoted George Washington, telling Green: "George Washington: 'Rifles and pistols are equally indispensable.' 'They deserve a place of honor with all that's good.'"
The words are part of a well-worn favorite conservative passage known as the "Liberty Teeth" quote. It reads in its entirety:
Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon, and citizen's firearms are indelibly related. From the moment the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to ensure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable. Every corner of this land knows firearms, and more than 99 99/100 percent of them by their silence indicate they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference; they deserve a place of honor with all that's good. When firearms go, all goes; we need them every hour.
The quote is a hoax, and a well-known one. As Extra! pointed out ("The Right's Library of Fake Quotes," 4/10), Walter Williams, a conservative writer and Hannity friend, used it in a syndicated column (Washington Times, 1/25/01). That was years after it had been widely debunked, including in Playboy magazine, where it had been quoted (12/95) and subsequently become the subject of a lengthy correction (12/95), after the editor of the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia called it "either a complete fabrication or a case of misattribution."
The "liberty teeth" quote is so well known as a fraud that the pro-gun Second Amendment Foundation, in inveighing against the use of bogus quotes as "counterproductive," to the cause, cites it as the prime example, and "perhaps the most infamous bogus saying attributed to a Founding Father."
Perhaps Sean Hannity uses the same crackerjack Fox News research team as Bill O'Reilly.