No, The Second Amendment Did Not Prohibit Cannon Ownership in the Early Republic

President Joe Biden returned this week to his claim that the Second Amendment was originally understood and applied to ban the private ownership of cannons. It is not just an embarrassing repetition of a false claim but threatens to reduce his own gun control measures to little more than cannon fodder on a historical perspective.

President Biden’s repeated accounts of his Amtrak conductor, truck driving past, and other stories have long been the subject of jokes in Washington. However, those stories (like his showdown with a “bad dude” named Corn Pop) can become an almost harmless signature of a president who seems to implant permanent memories in his own head. However, this is different. Biden has repeatedly defended his plans for banning certain weapon types based on his false understanding of the scope and history of the Second Amendment.

Ironically, in continuing to make the same false argument on cannons, President Biden delivers a blow below the waterline of his own argument for gun control.

Previously, Biden declared:

“And I might add: The Second Amendment, from the day it was passed, limited the type of people who could own a gun and what type of weapon you could own. You couldn’t buy a cannon.”

This week, President Biden repeated a false claim that many of us have corrected in the past.

When he was announcing new rules for so-called “ghost guns” and other measures, President Biden renewed his false claim that early Americans could not buy a cannon.

“By the way — it’s going to sound bizarre — I support the Second Amendment. But from the very beginning the Second Amendment didn’t say you could own any gun you want, as big as you want. You couldn’t buy a cannon, when in fact the Second Amendment passed.”

It does sound bizarre because it is factually and legally untrue. I have received calls from media for years about this claim and it does not improve by repetition. Even the Washington Post has declared Biden’s understanding of the Second Amendment to be false.

There were no federal laws barring cannon ownership when the Second Amendment was enacted. Gun laws remained local matters and I do not know of any bans on cannons or other gun types until much later in our history.  Early local laws did control concealed weapons, though concealed cannons were not part of those ordinances.

Indeed, the Constitution itself supports private cannon ownership in the case of privateers.  Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 allows Congress to “grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal.”  That allowed private parties to privateer on the high seas with . . . cannons. (Recently some members of Congress wanted to issues such letters of Marque again to enlist privateers in the fight against Russia).

What is most striking about this implanted memory is that it actually works against the President’s arguments. Unlike the conversations with a dead man or driving some eighteen wheeler, the falsity of the story highlights the constitutional challenge to his calls to outlaw assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

The fact is that the Second Amendment was not viewed or used as a basis for banning certain weapon types. That does not mean that it cannot be interpreted to allow for such prohibition, but historically it was not used to do so in the early Republic.  Most importantly, it was not until much later that the federal government even started to regulate private ownership, sale or possession of weapons.

It is like the Corn Pop story not only proving false, but Corn Pop turning out to be a local anti-violence social worker. The fact that the Second Amendment was not used by Congress to ban certain weapons works against Biden’s argument that he is advancing on the original understanding of the Second Amendment. The historical practice actually supports the opposite point that the Second Amendment was not used for such bans and there is no evidence of a general acceptance of the broad interpretation given by the President. There is not a dispositive argument for gun rights advocates but the President’s continued use of the false argument hardly improves the argument for gun control.

We all have false memories or “big fish stories.” Indeed, it can be charming in the right context. However, this is a story being used to limit the scope of a constitutional amendment. While I disagree with the “militia” theory of the Second Amendment, there are good-faith arguments for gun controls under the Amendment. Those arguments will not be improved through the revision of our constitutional history in a more convenient light.

Arguing such finer points of constitutional law is not nearly as effective as claiming that this question was resolved in 1791. Yet, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (the father of the famed jurist) once said “the sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.” This is an echo that seems to continue to ricochet in the mind of President Biden.


147 thoughts on “No, The Second Amendment Did Not Prohibit Cannon Ownership in the Early Republic”

  1. Biden’s installation to office, his administration’s incompetence, the obscene level of personal corruption surrounding Joe Biden, his regime’s failure to secure our border, and the sharp increase in crime, especially violent crime, have convinced me, and millions of other Americans, to possess multiple guns, and stock-up on ammunition. Long Live 2A.

  2. Political Cheer-Leading, Fodder for the Masses, Mindless Rhetorical.
    “Ghost” Gun as mythic as it sounds.

    TO make a Gun or copying any other Commercial item by “3D Printer” is not a viable method.

    1st it takes a 3D Printer. And ever Den knows that every Republican has a 3D Printer in their Basement or Garage
    standing on the ready to Print Polymer Hand Guns and Rifles to launch the next Revolution.

    2nd The skill in using the Software necessary to run the CNC & Printers to Tool the Gun takes a learning effort.
    Every Dem knows that the Republicans aren’t to bright to begin with, so they know that the Republicans have been quietly ‘Grooming their Children’ in these Software techniques since Pre-School.

    3rd ‘Ghost Guns’ can not compete with the number of Commercially produced Weapons or Weapons produced abroad and imported Legally and Illegally.

    The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’s Gun – Yes that’s right Dems, the Little Old Granny down the Street goes down to here Basement every night and Prints up a batch of ‘Ghost Guns’ on the 3D Printer she bought on eBay with the money Her deceased husband left her, to supplement her Social Security Check by selling her ghostly wares to Hoodlums and Gangsters that are waiting to Carjack Dems when they leave IKEA and Costco’s.

    Thank God! for Joey Biden and God Bless America 🇺🇸 and God save Queen Hillary to 🏳️‍🌈

  3. Quick few questions to Sammy, Anonymous, JeffSilberman and Natacha:
    If the pandemic is over so Title 42 will be no longer applied why do we have a mask requirement on planes?
    If the pandemic is over so that Title 42 is no longer applied why did Biden keep the student loan deferment going?
    If the unemployment record of the Biden team is so great why can’t students pay their loans?

    To just Sammy, the latest liberal fool to infest this great site: If the SCOTUS says that the 2ndA applies to individuals does that or does that not mean that this what the Amendment means? Look up Marbury v Madison. In other words, the SCOTUS gave us Roe, Obergefell, Brown etc etc, making all of these rulings THE LAW OF THE LAND, so do we follow the Court’s rulings or do we not? Is abortion legal? Is gay marriage legal? Is separate but equal illegal? Want to go down this road…liberal?

    1. SCOTUS substituted constitutional law for their political policy when they said that 2A gives an individual a right to have a gun. Others think that SCOTUS did the same thing for Roe and many other cases. You can’t claim that SCOTUS was infallible the cases you like and say they are activists for the cases you don’t. They are activists all the time.

  4. As I understand it, the second amendment arose out of a concern that a standing army created by the new federal government would outlaw and disarm the state militias. The purpose clause was thus an integral part of the meaning of the amendment. I believe Heller was wrongly decided.

    This does not mean that the federal government was empowered by the constitution to regulate gun ownership nationwide — that does not appear to have been one of the enumerated powers. I believe the federal government acts in this area under its power to regulate interstate commerce. To the extent limitations are sought to the federal government’s power to regulate the manufacture, sale and ownership of guns it should focus on the scope of the commerce clause.

    Moreover, the amendment as originally adopted was never intended to restrict the power of the states. Nor is there evidence that the 14th amendment was originally intended or understood to restrict the power of states to regulate gun manufacture, sale or ownership. Given that the purpose of the second amendment was to protect the states’ power to maintain militias, it would make little sense to say that the amendment restricted the states, or that the 14th amendment did so through substantive due process or privileges and immunities, absent compelling historical evidence that this was understood at the time.

    The problem I see with Biden’s proposed regulation of kits to make guns is that he is purporting to amend a law through rule making by the executive. Since 1968 it has been understood that the definition of firearms for purposes of regulating gun manufacturers does not include the sale of parts that individuals assemble themselves. Currently, there are bills under consideration by Congress to amend the law to cover this. To the extent there is power in the federal government to regulate the manufacture and sale of kits to assemble guns, that power lies with Congress not the executive.

    So under current law, assuming authority under the commerce clause, the issues will be whether this new rule is within the power of the executive or Congress and, if so, whether it is consistent with Heller or a further extension of Heller. I suspect the Supreme Court would find that the executive does not have the power, since Congress has acted in this area and has not amended the law or delegated to the executive clearly and specifically the power to expand the definition of firearms through rule-making.

    All that having been said, I agree with Professor Turley that Biden has once again lied about canons. Since he lies repeatedly about virtually everything that is hardly a surprise.

    1. Daniel, great comment and hopefully we will see more comments from you and fewer comments from the usual few that comment 100-200 times on each column.

  5. It never matters what misbegotten nonsense or scurrilous lies exit the mouths of the left. The service of the truth is not the prime function; it is ALWAYS the furtherance of their agenda that prompts their utterances. As a caution, therefore, NOTHING that they say should ever be taken as fact.

  6. The same group, liberals, that release or don’t even arrest criminals that use guns in robberies want to make it illegal for law abiding people to own guns. LOCKUP THE GUYS THAT BREAK THE DAMN LAW!

  7. Just a diversion, because his base is made up of “ghost violent people” who have been incapable of living as civilized American citizens. In spite of the many opportunities the perpetrators have been given they continue to follow a violent path. Arrest and incarcerate the “ghost violent people” and watch the problem begin to diminish.

  8. Interesting comments from Ukraine about numerous people who had never carried a firearm and now wishing they had training in firearms as they pick up all the weaponry shipped in from other nations. If Ukraine survives this I wonder if they will alter their constitution to enshrine the right to keep and bear arms. I suspect many Ukrainians will keep the AK 47’s and AK 74’s that they have picked up after the Russians cleared out. Most of those Russian Generals and other commanders lost in Ukraine were victims of snipers not necessarily missiles or artillery. Well trained riflemen require inordinate force to dislodge them, especially in urban fighting. The Russians proved that in WW 2 but seemed to have forgotten. Their Battalion Tactical Groups are heavy in armor and APC’s but infantry poor (men with rifles and RPG’s, Javelins, and such). It makes their Armor very vulnerable. Never underestimate a rifleman or even an armed citizen.
    I would not turn down a cannon if I could get one. They look nice on manicured lawns. Never know when you might need one. A Javelin might be even better

  9. Reasonably priced vintage artillery pieces are available on eBay. Check your local laws. Void where prohibited.

  10. The person who printed the very first page of the Second Amendment reversed some words but mistake. The framers had said: the right to arm bears. Not the right to bear arms.
    Some militias had squads of country bears who were given rifles while serving with the humans.

  11. The 2A was meant to prevent the federal government from banning state militia. The idea that the 2A was about personal guns is a Republican lie. So ya, Biden got history wrong, but so does the entire Republican establishment.

    1. did you miss ” the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. ” Who do you think made up the militia? They weren’t a PAID ARMY! They were private citizen…WHO COULD HAVE ARMS!

        1. “well regulated” refers to proficiency and training, not government control. Do some research before making such foolish comments.

        2. “Did you miss “a well regulated “?”

          When the Constitution was created, there was considerable concern over standing armies. Control over the militias was debated heavily, but the Federalists and Anti-Federalists agreed the federal government had power over the military and DIDN’T have the right to disarm the people. There was no credible opinion that the federal government could disarm American citizens.

          Sammy and Anonymous the Stupid agree on everything. ATS raised this argument in the same manner in the past. Sammy and ATS are the same.

    2. People who belonged in the militia had guns over the fireplace at home. When the militia called them out they brought their own rifles.

    3. “Well regulated” at the time of the founders meant in working order.
      “militia” meant every bodied man between the ages of 16 and 40.
      But thank you for showing your idiocy.

  12. So Brandon is coming down on ghost guns. But I’ll bet h believes hardened criminals with lengthy rap sheets can be rehabilitated.

  13. Personally, I think I should be able to be armed with anything the the US military is, including an aircraft carrier.

      1. Right there is the core issue folks.

        We are not talking about the hundreds of millions of firearms that never get used in a crime….well at least right up to the moment the Federal Government attempts to make their mere possession a crime.

        It is the criminal use of firearms that is the issue….but one the Left wishes to do nothing about but instead is determined to disarm the innocent and the victims while doing nothing to address those among us who are committing violent crimes using firearms.

        I grow weary of the constant ranting of those on the Left about this issue….and their complete refusal to “follow the science”.

        My usual reply is to point them to the Chicago Murder Statistics produced by the Chicago Police Department and other sources offering a very detailed breakdown of those Stats and General Crime Stats for Chicago.

        I ask them to carefully analyze that Data and see what is actually going on there and just who the Offenders AND Victims are of the constant extremely high level of murder and mayhem in Chicago.

        Of interest also is Age, Sex, and neighborhood of residence, and prior Arrest Record that stands out in the data.

        Any honest evaluation of the Data yields confirmation that it is the fingers on the triggers that matters and that is why any effort to reduce the Crime Levels must focus upon the Actors.

        Yet not one has ever come back and admitted having done that and offered their opinion of how that personal research might have shaped their views……I wonder why?

    1. including an aircraft carrier.

      I know you think you have a snappy comeback that is supposed to highlignt the absurdity of owning a weapon of war.

      Before you pat yourself on your back, think about Elon Musk, with approval of 12,000 satellites, and another 30,000 satellites waiting for approval and think about the war making capabilities of such an array of satellites. Now explain to me exactly what would prevent a person or group from building an armed ship.

  14. The Second Amendment was put in place to STOP the POWER grab…Democrats are doing!

    1. And yet it was the Rs who conducted the first attempted coup is US history.

      1. You need to return to your employer’s copy / paste talking points and sources of misinformation, e.g. NYT, WaPo, etc

        The Democrats started the US Civil War. We know you are not paid to think, because that would require a functioning brain not damaged.

        Go back to your job duties and the use of multiple sock puppets. We understand Svelaz is free as of this moment


    2. So, why is it perfectly legal to own a cannon today? They are sold on the internet.

  15. so in democrat thinking…anything that can kill people should be banned? How about FAST FOOD?

  16. so Democrats are pro drugs which killed over 100,000 people increasing at 20% A YEAR….but anti gun…which killed less 19,384 gun murders that took place in 2020?
    Maybe we should also take away cars…42000 people a year?
    BTW of all guns deaths, not just murders little over half (53%) of all suicides in 2020 – 24,292 out of 45,979 – involved a gun.
    Maybe if we abolished the Democrat party suicides would drop by 90%

  17. I have pointed this out repeatedly. I never get counter point to debate the fact.
    I also ask if Police have the right to carry a gun? Well, do they? The right for police to carry is not enumerated. So that power to carry must be delegated from something that has the power to delegate.

    The more current truth exposing the leftist ant rights position is in our news feeds,24 hours a day
    The lie? “your AR 15 is not going to defeat a nuclear power” I always get that, when I point out, the only purpose of the 2cnd amendment is to protect me from the Government.
    Ukrainians lead by example, the importance of the NATURAL RIGHT to self defense.

    1. The 2A was not meant for a individual for fight the government. That interpretation makes zero sense in the context of the Constitution as a whole.

      1. “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.” – Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787

      2. Anonymous the Stupid, provide your argument based on what the Federalists and Anti-Federalists discussed when the Constitution was written.

      3. The only thing that makes sense is protection from the govt. It is not hunting, it is not self defense from by fellows. The only thing the 2cnd references….

        A well regulated Militia, being necessary to thesecurity of a free State

  18. Lefties have often sacrificed truth to advance their political agenda, just look at the 1619 project.

  19. Lol. The Second Amendment did not prohibit cannon ownership. EXACTLY!

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