President Biden said that the Second Amendment is not absolute before going on to explain that you couldn’t own a cannon when the Bill of Rights was ratified. This remark is identical to one he made back in February that I have already debunked.
The Amendment didn’t say that, for two reasons: First, the Amendments to the Constitution don’t say that people can do anything. The Amendments say that the GOVERNMENT can’t do things. The government can’t infringe on the right keep to bear arms, is what it says. Second, people DID own cannons. Privately organized and funded artillery companies in the colonies date all the way back to the 1630s. A century later, in the 1740s, there are records of Benjamin Franklin helping organize artillery companies while stressing that they were made completely of volunteers and armed at their own expense.
One of the driving forces behind the first major battles of the Revolutionary was because the British soldiers were coming to confiscate privately-owned arms – including cannons and mortars – such as ones that were being held by veterans of the French and Indian War as war trophies.
In fact, there were people who owned entire warships. See my post on this from 2013.
During the course of the Revolution, approximately 1,700 letters of Marque were issued to privateers. In the War of 1812, President James Madison issued more than 500 letters of Marque to privateers. These letters of marque created what was, essentially, legal piracy, and it was sanctioned by the government and even deemed necessary. So how did these privateers arm their vessels? With cannons that they purchased as individuals.
Our colonial navy had approximately 1,200 cannons on board less than 65 ships. The privateers, on the other hand, had almost 15,000 cannons – all privately owned.
The National Firearms Act of 1934, which is, by far, the most restrictive piece of Federal legislation related to the ownership of arms, says nothing about cannons. It wasn’t until 1968 that things we regard as modern artillery were regulated further when ‘destructive devices’ were added to the law.
But muzzleloading cannons, like the ones used during the Revolutionary War remain conspicuously absent in any legislation. You could buy a cannon as an individual in the Revolution era, and you can still buy one today as an individual.