By: Peter Suciu
During his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden called for additional gun control – including a ban on so-called "assault rifles" and "high-capacity" magazines. Biden made the dubious claim that once the 1994 Assault Weapon Ban (AWB) expired under President George W. Bush in 2004, there has been a rise in gun violence.
"I'm saying if the law continued, we wouldn't see bloodshed," Biden suggested.
While such hyperbole is impossible to prove, it just part of the misinformation that the president continued to spread in his address, and he essentially doubled-down on lies he told earlier in April. Biden twice has told the American public that the Founding Fathers had set limits on what guns an individual could own. He also added that from the beginning of our nation, "certain people" weren't allowed to have weapons.
The first part of his statement is simply an outright lie. It can be seen as upsetting that the president, who holds a law degree, either doesn't know the history of the Constitution or is spreading misinformation for his own gain. In fact, there is not one documented case where the Founding Fathers saw any need to bar civilians from owning firearms.
Firearm ownership was actually more common at the time, and many of the firearms owned by civilians were little different or in some cases even superior to what the military used.
T. Logan Metesh of High Caliber History offered some data to support these facts, which included:
*Tidewater Marylanders circa 1700: 78% of population owned firearms
*Essex County, MA circa 1650: 25% of women owned guns
*Bullets were used as currency in Plymouth Colony in 1635
"There were documented incidents where there were penalties for not owning a gun," Metesh told Gunoowder Magazine.
Were Any Guns Banned?
The Second Amendment didn't specify any type of firearm that could be owned by civilians, and in the past, Biden has made equally suspect claims that weapons, such as cannons, could only be used by the military. That isn't true, of course, as privately owned vessels often were armed with the same types of cannons installed on military warships.
Moreover, it wasn't until the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934 that there were restrictions on the purchase or transfer of even automatic weapons. The bill was brought on as a means to stop violence amongst the criminal syndicates, notably the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The Thompson submachine guns that had been used in that particular incident had been purchased legally.
In fact, throughout the 1920s, the Thompson and other automatic weapons were marketed to civilians – and a famous poster shows how Thompson suggested it was an ideal weapon for ranchers to combat rustlers.
Of course, Biden has spread the misinformation that the Founding Fathers wouldn't have approved or allowed such rapid fire weapons because they couldn't have foreseen the development of such technology. Yet, even that isn't accurate.
"The Continental Congress worked with Joseph Belton to place an order for 1,000 repeating rifles in 1777," explained Metesh.
The Belton flintlock was reported to have been able to fire eight rounds – one after another – in less than eight seconds. That certainly exceeded the three rounds most trained soldiers could fire per minute, and suggests that the Congress understood such weapons could be developed.
"Never came to fruition only because of a disagreement on compensation – absolutely nothing to do with 'excessive firepower' or anything even remotely like that," added Metesh.
Who Couldn't Own a Gun?
Biden has repeated his claim that certain people couldn't own a gun, but again, as someone who supposedly studied law, he should know there was absolutely no prohibition against citizens regarding gun ownership until the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968. Only then were convicted felons even barred from owning guns.
Biden could be taking a cue from the Bill Clinton playbook is in his choice of words. Just as former President Clinton said he didn't see what he did in the Oval Office with intern Monica Lewisky as "sexual relations," Biden's suggested that "certain people" is actually somewhat accurate.
He just doesn't mean citizens, and instead could mean Native Americans and more ominously, slaves.
The attitudes, however, regarding arms and Native Americans changed over time.
"Early decades in the colonies, Native Americans were prohibited from owning guns, and there were stiff penalties for those who supplied the guns to Natives," said Metesh. "However, guns later proved to be a popular bartering item."
That leaves only one group of individuals who couldn't own guns.
"That would be slaves," agreed Metesh. "I'm not aware of any other individuals who couldn't own a gun when the Second Amendment was drafted."
Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.