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Noted Constitutional Scholar Joe Biden Explains The Second Amendment

Don’t make him scramble the F-16s.

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The day his son Hunter avoided punishment for breaking a slew of firearm laws, Joe Biden gave another speech on gun control.

Well, not exactly another one. The president delivered the same ludicrous speech he’s been giving for at least a decade. And it contained one of my favorite arguments:  

And so, we have to change — there’s a lot of things we can change, because the American people by and large agree you don’t need a weapon of war. I’m a Second Amendment guy. I taught it for four years, six years in law school. And guess what? It doesn’t say that you can own any weapon you want. It says there are certain weapons that you just can’t own. Even during when it was passed, you couldn’t own a cannon. You can’t own a machine gun. (Laughter.) No, I’m serious. 

So what’s the deal with the idea that it’s an absolute — you know, I love these guys who say the Second Amendment is — you know, the tree of liberty is water with the blood of patriots. Well, if want to do that, you want to work against the government, you need an F-16. You need something else than just an AR-15. Anyway. 

Virtually every word of this garbled nonsense is untrue.

The quote Biden keeps mangling originated with Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William Stephens Smith, the son-in-law of John Adams: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” (Biden leaves off that last part.) Jefferson’s support of sporadic revolutionary bloodletting (not his own) wasn’t shared by most of the founding generation, whose initial sympathy for the French Revolution quickly diminished with the news of violent mobs and mass executions.

Anyway, I feel relatively well-informed on the gun debate, and I have literally never heard anyone say, “The tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots.” I’m not saying that a cosplay militant hasn’t uttered those words at some point. And I’m not saying Biden didn’t read about it in 1975 or 1992 or 2002. What I’m saying is that it’s a strawman and smear meant to insinuate that most gun owners are looking for violence.

Moreover, contending, as the president does, that your weapon is basically useless because the state can simply scramble F-16s and murder you and everyone you love doesn’t really convey the message he thinks it does. What it tells me is that Biden might be a sociopath and we all need tanks.

The president could just as easily have said: “The First Amendment? Let’s see how your television station holds up when the government pulls the plug on the electrical grid!” or “You think the Fifth Amendment is going to save you when we torture you into a confession?” We all know the state is capable of abusing power. That’s the point.

None of this is even to mention that modern armies struggle to contain insurgencies equipped with little more than small arms. There have been countless such fights, including against Americans in places like Afghanistan. I guess we should be happy Biden didn’t threaten to nuke Kansas.

Also, AR-15s are not, and have never been, “weapons of war.” He keeps saying it. It’s not true.

ArmaLite, and its parent company Colt, began selling civilian versions of the semi-automatic AR in the early 1960s — before the more powerful M16 version was officially adopted for use by the U.S. Army. The AR-15 has been in “common use” by law-abiding civilians for a long time. Then again, muskets, rifles, revolvers, and semi-automatic handguns were once used as, or developed into, “weapons of war.” Guns are designed to kill, otherwise they would be worthless. John Browning designed his famous 1911 handgun before World War I, and it was subsequently used by the U.S. military until 1986. But you can buy as many 1911s as you like.

That said, the founders wanted the citizenry to own “weapons of war,” because they believed an armed population was a bulwark against those who would strip them of inalienable liberties. So, for instance, you could definitely own a cannon. You still can. There are numerous accounts of the American military buying cannons from private citizens. Then there are the privateers, which as the name suggests were private citizens. And they had lots of cannons. Americans were never barred from purchasing or constructing any type of weapon they desired without any hassle until the 20th century.

No, the Second Amendment also definitely doesn’t say “there are certain weapons that you just can’t own.”

Indeed, it is quite alarming that someone who claims to have taught constitutional law says something so obviously untrue. The Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right of individuals to “keep and bear Brown Bess muskets” any more than the First Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to “write with feather quill” or religious freedom to “members of the Anglican church.” It guarantees the right to bear arms. And it is foolish to believe that the founders, who saw tremendous technological advances in their own lifetimes, were too stupid to comprehend change.

Finally, Biden is not, in fact, a “Second Amendment guy.” He’s either voted for or supported every gun restriction legislation since the 1990s.

Though, there is one bit of good news. Biden has never taught anyone constitutional law, not for four or six years, or even one. He was given an honorary-professor position at Penn after his vice presidency, which the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2019 was “a vaguely defined role that involved no regular classes and around a dozen public appearances on campus, mostly in big, ticketed events.”

Thankfully.


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