Joe Biden’s June 23 address on the subject of gun violence probably did very little to move the needle for people on either side of the debate. As is always the case with those who oppose Second Amendment rights, Mr. Biden demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue – and of the history of firearm ownership in America. Worse still, he appeared to imply, at one point, that he would not be above using military force against American citizens.
Attempting to portray the crusade against the right to keep and bear arms as not being in conflict with the Second Amendment, Biden presented a somewhat skewed version of history. “[T]he 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,” he said, before adding: “You couldn’t buy a cannon.” As Liberty Nation’s Mark Angelides points out, though, Biden’s first statement deceptively reinterprets history and his second was simply inaccurate.
The only people prohibited from owning guns at the time of the ratification of the Second Amendment were slaves and Native Americans. Those restrictions, obviously, were not enforced as a means of reducing violent crime; they were intended to ensure that the oppressed remained oppressed. There is no parallel in today’s America. If there had been no slave trade and no conflict with indigenous peoples, nobody, back then, would have been prevented from owning a firearm.
As for not being able to own a cannon; few people had the means to purchase one, but, as Angelides notes, the American Revolution had been fought with privately-owned ships and cannons. The only restrictions on purchasing such arms and equipment were one’s wealth and station.
As has been observed many times before by gun rights advocates, the Second Amendment does not make exceptions; it does not specify the kinds of arms permitted or the type of people allowed to keep and bear those arms.
You and Whose Army?
Most disturbing, though, was Mr. Biden’s reference to a well-known quote from Thomas Jefferson. In 1787, Jefferson wrote a letter to William Stephens Smith, the son-in-law of John Adams, in which he observed: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” Just before this, Jefferson wrote: “And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them.”
Indeed, the historical record shows, without doubt, that the ability of American citizens to protect themselves against the tyranny of government was one of the driving forces behind the formulation of the Second Amendment. The commander in chief appeared to struggle in his reference to the quote:
“Those who say the blood of… the blood of patriots… you know, and all that stuff about how we’re gonna have to… move against the government. Well, the tree of liberty is not watered with the blood of patriots. What’s happened is that there have never been, if you wanted to think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.”
Political affiliation aside, it is entirely inappropriate for any American president to make such a remark. It is not unreasonable to interpret the comment as a kind of veiled threat; the government has more powerful weaponry than you – don’t even think about it. The British Empire assumed the very same thing, no doubt.
If one decides to pursue this unthinkable hypothetical scenario, why not ponder the possible outcomes? How many members of the U.S. military would be likely to obey orders to deploy warplanes and nuclear weapons against their fellow Americans? Very few indeed, most likely. So, the threat – if it is to be interpreted as such – is an empty one.
The Eyes of the World
Another aspect of Mr. Biden’s address did not concern the subject matter, but the delivery. Some fear that Biden’s cognitive abilities are in decline, and the man did nothing to assuage that fear as he seemed to struggle through his speech, frequently slurring his words and often struggling to remember and correctly pronounce the names of the people he referenced during the presentation. At one point, Biden referred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) as “the AFT,” before quickly correcting himself.
What must America’s adversaries on the world stage be thinking when they observe Biden’s stumbling public addresses? One should be in no doubt whatsoever that they are paying very close attention to such things – which is another important reason for preserving the Second Amendment. After all, the citizens of the United States, given a worst-case scenario, make up the largest armed body of men and women on Earth.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.