“You Can’t Own a Cannon!”

Revolutionary War Cannon
Revolutionary War Cannon

Why does President Biden continue to say that the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States never allowed American citizens to own a cannon?  He’s said that over and over again for years.  That’s simply not true.  And over all these years, someone must have made that clear to him.

He earned a degree in History and another in Political Science from the University of Delaware.  He also holds a law degree from Syracuse University, which one would assume included a deep dive into both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution provides for the issuance of “letters of marque and reprisal” by Congress…

“To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water”

These “letters of marque” amount to commissions issued by Congress authorizing a privately owned ship and non-military crew – known as “privateers” – to attack vessels sailing under the flag of a declared enemy for the duration of a conflict.  These privately owned vessels were expected to be fully outfitted with the latest naval weaponry, which included cannons as large as the deadly “32 pounder” of the early 1800s with a range of 800 yards.  Congress issued these “letters” as late as the War of 1812 waged against the United Kingdom, and they are still a Constitutionally legal tool available to our government.

Clearly, our Constitution actually relied on private ownership of cannon and other common naval weaponry (pistols, rifles, and swords) by private American citizens, both at the time the main Constitution was written in 1787, and again when the Bill of Rights was drawn up in 1791.

There are documented instances of privately owned American merchant vessels setting sail armed with cannons at least throughout the “Age of Sail” which lasted until the late 1800s.

From at least the founding of the original 13 American colonies in the early 1600s until the passage of the federal National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) – more than 300 years – there were no restrictions on firearms ownership in America whatsoever.

In fact, the NFA was not enacted to restrict ownership of firearms so much as to impose and collect taxes on the manufacture and transfer of certain types of firearms.  That’s right – the government wanted their cut!

Under the NFA cannons are classified as “destructive devices.”  To legally purchase one today is fairly straightforward and thousands of cannons are currently in the hands of private citizens.  All you need to do is (1) locate the cannon you want to buy, (2) obtain pre-approval from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (commonly known as the ATF) using their “Form 4”, and (3) purchase an ATF $200 tax stamp.  That’s it.

Of course, actually firing outdated cannons can be a pretty dangerous business.  Back in 2015 two men were killed inside their World War II-era tank destroyer near Bend, Oregon when they attempted to fire a surviving round of 60+ year-old ammunition through the fully functional 76mm cannon mounted in their M18 Hellcat.

For something new and considerably less dangerous just visit Steen Cannon and Ordnance Works out of Ashland, Kentucky.  There you’ll find such gems as a brand-new U.S. Model 1857 12-Pounder “Napoleon”.  With a propellant charge of 2.5 lbs of black powder, the “Napoleon” fires a 12 lb. solid shot to a range of 1,600 yards at 5 degrees elevation, at a muzzle velocity of 1,485 feet per second.  Call for price, only serious buyers, please.

Look, we all know about the debate that grips our country when it comes to the “real meaning” of the Second Amendment, even though it seems pretty straightforward to me…

“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.”

27 simple words.  No fluff.  No extraneous verbiage.  No confusing legalese.

The real structure of the 2nd Amendment is this; here is a benefit derived from X, and the rights to X shall not be infringed.  To read the 2nd Amendment in any different context requires deliberate, intentional ignorance.

For example, suppose we said, “Healthy bones being good for children, the right of children to drink milk shall not be infringed”.  The “progressive” read of that sentence, taken as they read the 2nd Amendment, would be: “Only children with healthy bones are allowed to drink milk”.

Let’s try another example; “Quality orchestras being of value to the culture of the State, the right of the people to own musical instruments shall not be infringed.”

Have I just said that only orchestra members can own instruments? Of course not!  Here’s a great article that explains all that.

Now, we can debate the “why” of the Second Amendment, and of course, pro-gun advocates debate that point with anti-gunners all the time.  Is it about hunting, is it about sport shooting, is it about ensuring a solid foundation for a militia, or is it about keeping privately-owned firearms in the hands of American citizens so that they have the ability to resist an oppressive government?

The meaning of this passage in our Constitution seems clear to me.  It’s about keeping privately-owned firearms in the hands of American citizens so that they have the ability to resist an oppressive government.

Placed in the context of the aftermath of our War of Independence, when privately-owned firearms had just enabled the American colonists to overthrow the oppression of the King of England, it’s obvious that our Founding Fathers’ intent was to codify that God-given right for Americans for all time.

But this business about whether or not Americans are now – or ever were – allowed to own cannon and other naval weapons (again, pistols, rifles and swords) is not in question.

So, is President Biden simply hoping that Americans are ignorant of history and of the Second Amendment, and can be easily lied to?  Or is he, himself, ignorant of history and of the Second Amendment?  I cannot decide which is more troubling.

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