News & Politics

Even the WaPo Can't Stomach Biden's Cannon Comment

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Joe Biden delivered an infamous gun control speech last week, claiming that Americans “need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons” if they want to restrain government tyranny. Yet he also used a flat-out lie to justify his gun control agenda — a lie that led even The Washington Post to deliver Biden a scathing rebuke.

“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,” Biden declared last Wednesday.

The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler fact-checked this statement, giving Biden a whopping Four Pinocchios.

“Everything in that statement is wrong,” David Kopel, the research director and Second Amendment project director at the Independence Institute, told The Washington Post. After 1791, when the Second Amendment came into effect as part of the Bill of Rights, “there were no federal laws about the type of gun you could own, and no states limited the kind of gun you could own.” Not until the early 1800s were there any efforts to pass restrictions on carrying concealed weapons, he said.

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Even the text of the Second Amendment disproves Biden’s claim. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” the amendment states. No part of the amendment’s brief text suggests any limits on civilians’ cannon ownership.

Kermit Roosevelt, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, strained to give Biden some credit.

“I think what he’s saying here is that the Second Amendment was never understood to guarantee everyone the right to own all types of weapons, which I believe is true,” Roosevelt told the Post. “As phrased, it sounds like the Second Amendment itself limited ownership, which is not true.”

Kopel did note that some states placed gun-ownership restrictions on Native American tribes, but the Constitution treated the tribes as the equivalent of foreign nations.

Biden had made a similar claim about commonsense cannon control during the 2020 presidential campaign.

“From the very beginning you weren’t allowed to have certain weapons,” Biden told Wired magazine in May 2020. “You weren’t allowed to own a cannon during the Revolutionary War as an individual.”

Historians told PolitiFact that there was no evidence to back up Biden’s assertion. The Biden campaign did not point to any laws, seeming instead to suggest that Biden’s point was metaphorical.

Kessler noted that “Biden has moved the cannon metaphor to some 20 years after the Revolutionary War — and it’s still wrong.”

Finally, the Washington Post fact-checker cited another piece of evidence from the Constitution that disproves Biden’s claim. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 gives Congress the power to declare war and to “grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal.”

Kessler explained:

What’s that? These were special waivers that allowed private individuals to act as pirates on behalf of the United States against countries engaged in war with it. The “letter of marque” allowed a warship to cross into another country’s territory to take a ship, while a “letter of reprisal” gave authorization to bring the ship back to the home port of the capturer.

Individuals who were given these waivers and owned warships obviously also obtained cannons for use in battle.

So, Biden was wrong to say that the ragtag Patriot army during the revolution banned civilian cannons, and he was wrong to say the Second Amendment banned civilian cannons, and he was wrong to suggest that the Founders prevented civilian cannons — because the Constitution shows that they would have allowed cannons on ships.

What does it matter? Kessler argued that it matters a great deal.

“Some readers might think this is a relatively inconsequential flub. But we disagree. Every U.S. president has a responsibility to get American history correct, especially when he’s using a supposed history lesson in service of a political objective,” Kessler argued. “The president’s push for more gun restrictions is an important part of his political platform, so he undercuts his cause when he cites faux facts.”

“Moreover, Biden has already been fact-checked on this claim — and it’s been deemed false. We have no idea where he conjured up this notion about a ban on cannon ownership in the early days of the Republic, but he needs to stop making this claim,” the WaPo fact-checker concluded.

Considering Biden’s penchant for telling rambling stories he made up out of whole cloth, Americans should brace themselves for another history lesson. Perhaps Grandpa Joe will tell the story of George Washington’s ban on cannons anywhere near his cherry tree, or the Great Boston Cannon Confiscation of 1785, or the early draft of the Declaration of Independence, where Thomas Jefferson wrote, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness — but certainly no cannons!”

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Perhaps he’ll remember the good old days, when he walked up hill both ways in the snow to go hand in his family’s illegal cannons at the Cannon Confiscation Office.