The Gun Argument That’s Not Even Wrong


Why the “Founders’ Intent” doesn’t matter

“What was the Founders’ intent?”

This is a favorite question for people to ask when discussing the Constitution — especially the Second Amendment, where arguments over the meaning of the “militia” clause and over the changing nature of guns over 250 years are de rigeur. The problem with these arguments isn’t that one side or the other is right: the problem with them is that they’re not even wrong. They are debating a completely meaningless question.

The latest context for this is a gun which may or may not have been invented by Joseph Belton in 1777. That year, he sent a letter to the Continental Congress, offering his newly-designed “repeating flintlock” gun to the Army: a gun which could, he said, fire as many as twenty balls in a matter of five seconds. This gun has taken on importance in political disputes because it would be evidence that the Founders were aware of the possibility of automatic weapons, and wrote the Second Amendment fully conscious of that. This particular dispute was shaken up today, when journalist Adam Weinstein claimed that the gun was an elaborate hoax penned by his grandfather, and never existed at all.

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