President Joe Biden on Wednesday repeated a claim about the Second Amendment that some of us have repeatedly challenged as untrue. In asserting that “the Second Amendment is not absolute,” President Biden repeated his claim that certain weapons were prohibited at the time that the Second Amendment was ratified. That is simply untrue.
The statement that the Second Amendment is not absolute is certainly true. There are laws that can be crafted within the confines set out under controlling Supreme Court precedent. However, as discussed in a column, President Biden continues to ignore those constitutional limitations in blaming the gun lobby and political opponents for these deaths.
President Biden also has repeated his claim that certain weapons were banned at the time of the ratification of the Second Amendment.
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.
Yet, this week, President Biden remained undeterred and uninformed: “The Second Amendment is not absolute. When it was passed you couldn’t own a cannon, you couldn’t own certain kinds of weapons. There’s just always been limitations.”
Once again, 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).
As with the failure to acknowledge the limitations on the range of legislative options due to Second Amendment protections, President Biden is undermining efforts to reach common ground with this repeated false claim. If we are going to reach what the President calls “commonsense” responses to this massacre, we must start from a common understanding of the constitutional and historical foundations for such reforms.