Boebert wrong about when Gatling guns were invented, right on scope of the Second Amendment

Boebert wrong about when Gatling guns were invented, right on scope of the Second Amendment
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The anti-gun left is having a lot of fun with Rep. Lauren Boebert’s claim that Gatling guns were around when the Second Amendment was ratified, but they’re completely (and intentionally) missing the broader point that she was correctly making: the right to keep and bear arms doesn’t just apply to those arms that were around in 1791, and it didn’t prevent private citizens from owning even non-bearable arms like cannons (or Gatling guns, once they were introduced by inventor Richard Jordan Gatling in 1861).

A more fundamental error on Boebert’s part was saying that Gatling guns are “fully automatic.” According to the ATF, the original Gatling gun and all other replicas are not machine guns, nor are they fully-automatic, because “[t]he original Gatling Gun is a rapid-firing, hand-operated weapon. The rate of fire is regulated by the rapidity of the hand-cranking movement, manually controlled by the operator. It is not a “machinegun” as that term is defined in 26 U.S.C. 5845(b} because it is not a weapon that fires automatically.”

As long as the Gatling gun is cranked by hand and not a machine, it’s not a machine gun, in other words.

Now all this is fairly esoteric knowledge, and I guarantee you that whoever runs the “PatriotTakes” account on Twitter had no idea when the Gatling gun was first introduced before looking it up themselves. It also misses Boebert’s broader point, which is that the Second Amendment has never allowed the kinds of sweeping bans on commonly-owned arms that are at the heart of the gun control movement. Joe Biden and his demonstrably false statements about cannon ownership aside, we’ve also seen anti-gun politicians like New York Gov. Kathy Hochul claim that the Second Amendment only protects the right to keep and bear muskets and declaring she’s ready to “go back” to the arms that were in use back in 1788.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly addressed this issue, including in last week’s opinion in Bruen, and time and time again the justices have stated that the Second Amendment does not only protect arms that were in use at the time the amendment was ratified. Here’s what Justice Samuel Alito had to say in his concurring opinion in a case that rejected a Massachusetts ban on stun guns back in 2016:

The state court repeatedly framed the question before it as whether a particular weapon was “‘in common use at the time’ of enactment of the Second Amendment.” In Heller, we emphatically rejected such a formulation. We found the argument “that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment” not merely wrong, but “bordering on the frivolous.” Instead, we held that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”

… While stun guns were not in existence at the end of the 18th century, the same is true for the weapons most commonly used today for self-defense, namely, revolvers and semiautomatic pistols. Revolvers were virtually unknown until well into the 19th century, and semiautomatic pistols were not invented until near the end of that century. Electronic stun guns are no more exempt from the Second Amendment’s protections, simply because they were unknown to the First Congress, than electronic communications are exempt from the First Amendment, or electronic imaging devices are exempt from the Fourth Amendment.

While the Court hasn’t ruled directly on the constitutionality of bans on so-called assault weapons or “large capacity” magazines, the test it’s laid out for determining whether or not those arms are protected by the Second Amendment leaves little doubt, at least in my mind, as to how the justices should decide those cases if and when they have the opportunity. And while Lauren Boebert may be a little off on her history and definition of a “machine gun,” she’s absolutely correct about the scope of the Second Amendment and what it means for arms that are much more commonly owned than Gatling guns ever were.