We have previously discussed the repeated false statements made by President Joe Biden about the history of the Second Amendment and capabilities of different weapons. Now, Democratic Presidential candidate and writer Marianne Williamson has added her own false “facts” in what appears a race to the bottom. For a party that has made fighting disinformation a rallying cry (and rationale for censorship), the continued misrepresentation of the facts related to the Second Amendment is jarring.
Williamson told her followers that “when the Founders wrote the Second Amendment, the largest guns they had were muskets.” She added “The Second Amendment is NOT a legitimate reason not to ban assault weapons. Ban them now.”
Williamson then added a historical point that suggested that the Framers would have recoiled by the almost magical power of a rifle: “Today’s assault weapon would be like the power of a cannon to them.”
Williamson is impressive to the degree that she got both the history and capacity of revolutionary weapons wrong.
Rifles did exist in the Revolution. That included most famously the Pennsylvania long rifle that was the bane of the existence of the British. The weapons could hit targets at 300 yards and were used by snipers against the British. One of the most famous examples was the killing of General Simon Fraser at the Battle of Saratoga.
The muskets, by the way, had a sizable projectile. Model 1763 Charleville muskets fired a .69 caliber ball while the common Brown Bess musket fired a .75 ball. The problem with muskets was not their stopping power, but their short range and accuracy.
Of course, a wide array of actual cannons were used during the Revolution. The majority were 3, 4 or 6-pound guns. The larger 12-pound guns were also seen on battlefields but more often used by ships.
The damage of these cannons was horrific to behold. They would not be confused or analogous to modern civilian weapons. Revolutionary War cannons could be loaded with solid cannon balls or shells (composed of hallow balls filled with black powder and lit before firing from the cannon). Shot could also include musket balls, buckshot, and grape shot. At close range, they could cut down an entire company in a flash.
There is no question that weapons have become more powerful with greater velocity and range. However, it is not true that there were no rifles or that the Framers were unfamiliar with weapons with high lethality.
The biggest problem with the claims of both Biden and Williamson is the continued failure to acknowledge the constitutional limitations on any gun control legislation.
There is now a strong majority for gun control reforms. However, politicians are once again ignoring what is constitutionally possible by focusing on what is politically popular with their voting base.
In the past, politicians in cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have proven to be the gun lobby’s greatest asset. They have pushed ill-considered legislation and litigation that only served to create precedent against gun control. Courts likely would press the Biden administration on why it is seeking to ban this model when other higher-caliber weapons are sold.
AR-15s can handle a variety of calibers. However, they are no more powerful than other semi-automatic rifles of the same caliber and actually have a lower caliber than some commonly sold weapons which use .30-06, .308 and .300 ammunition; many of these guns fire at the same — or near the same rate — as the AR-15. None of these weapons are classified as actual military “assault weapons,” and most civilians cannot own an automatic weapon. (AR in AR-15 stands for “ArmaLite rifle,” not assault rifle or automatic rifle).
Likewise, President Biden showed the same disconnect in suggesting bans on “high-caliber weapons” like 9mm handguns and said “a .22-caliber bullet will lodge in the lung, and we can probably get it out — may be able to get it and save the life. A 9mm bullet blows the lung out of the body.”
While gun experts mocked the notion that 9mm rounds blow organs out of bodies, the president’s singling out of these handguns led many to cry foul about using the Uvalde massacre to impose a Canadian-like ban or moratorium. The 9mm round is the most popular handgun caliber in the U.S., with more than half of all handguns produced in 2019 using that round, according to Shooting Industry magazine. If Biden pushed a ban, he would target more than 40 percent of all pistols produced in the U.S.
There is little support for saying that the earlier ban on assault weapons had any appreciable impact on mass murders; there is no support for asserting it caused a reduction in gun violence overall. Thankfully, mass shootings are statistically rare. Even studies that noted a drop in mass shootings during this earlier period noted that such a cause-and-effect claim is “inconclusive.”
Moreover, the earlier ban was imposed in 1994 — before the Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the right to bear arms is an individual right. Any such ban today would face a far greater court challenge and would require a far more compelling factual foundation to pass constitutional muster.
Even with the spreading of such disinformation, I would not want Williamson or Biden to be censored on social media or banned by platforms. The solution to bad speech is better speech. The problem is that figures like Biden have sought to silence others with opposing views on various subjects. As with high lethality weapons, the Framers were quite familiar with censorship. They sought to ban it in the First Amendment, but that is one point of historical clarity that seems to escape many of our leaders.