President Biden claimed last week that the Second Amendment, "from the day it was passed," limited what kind of weapon you could own and that "you couldn't buy a cannon." Biden has made this claim before, but historians and fact-checkers including Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post say it's bunk. Historians say there are no documented instances of a private individual in the era being prohibited from owning a cannon, and Kessler notes that the Constitution granted Congress the power to allow private individuals to act as pirates—which would certainly have included owning cannons—on behalf of the US. PolitiFact deemed the claim false when Biden made it on the campaign trail, and Kessler gives Biden four Pinocchios, the highest on its scale for misleading claims.
Biden may have meant to say that the amendment "was never understood to guarantee everyone the right to own all types of weapons, which I believe is true," says constitutional law professor Kermit Roosevelt. "As phrased, it sounds like the Second Amendment itself limited ownership, which is not true." Kessler says the error may seem "relatively inconsequential" to some readers, but Biden is undercutting his campaign for tighter gun laws when he makes false claims. "Every US president has a responsibility to get American history correct, especially when he’s using a supposed history lesson in service of a political objective," writes Kessler, who is not as busy as he was during the previous administration. A year ago, he told Mother Jones that Donald Trump had received more than 18,000 Pinocchios and he wasn't sure if he could face fact-checking for a second term. (Read more President Biden stories.)