FACT CHECK: Were American Militiamen Limited To One Musket And 24 Bullets In 1791?
A post shared on Facebook claims that when the Second Amendment was enacted in 1791 militiamen were limited to owning one musket and 24 bullets.
The claim appears to be misstating a 1792 law that required American militiamen to have at least one “good musket or firelock” and “not less than twenty four cartridges.” The law set a minimum requirement, not a maximum one, according to experts.
The Facebook post claims that when the Second Amendment was ratified, “a well regulated militia was restricted to 1 musket, 2 spare flints and 24 bullets? They had to register and at anytime the gov could enter their home, take away their weapon and remove them from the rolls.”
However, this claim is misleading. Robert J. Spitzer, a professor emeritus of political science at the State University of New York, College at Cortland, told Check Your Fact in an email statement that the reference to “1 musket, 2 spare flints, and 24 bullets” is likely a “misguided reference” to the 1792 Uniformed Militia Act. (RELATED: Joe Biden Claims Individuals Could Not Buy Cannons When The Second Amendment Was Enacted)
“It required militia-eligible men to obtain (at their own expense) ‘a good musket or firelock,’ meaning a military-grade firearm, and ‘a box therein to contain not less than twenty four cartridges’ plus the other items necessary to fire and maintain the musket,” explained Spitzer. “It was a minimum, not a maximum. Each state also had similar state laws by this time, though similar laws dated to the colonial period. Such laws were ineffective, however, because Congress did not include any enforcement mechanism, and these laws were widely ignored by militia-eligible men.”
In an email statement to Check Your Fact, Independence Institute research director David Kopel likewise argued that the “The quote is a deceptive misstatement of Congress’s Uniform Militia Act of 1792” and that in “1791, there were zero restrictions in state or federal law about maximum quantities of arms or ammunition that a person could possess.” On the claim that militiamen had to register their weapons, Kopel said it was “false.”
“At periodic musters, militiamen would have to show up for training with the required equipment. A militiamen could be fined for not having such equipment, and the local officers might send a report to state militia officers about how many men did or did not have the requisite equipment. There was no registration. At the time, guns did not have serial numbers,” Kopel explained. (RELATED: Did The NRA Support Mark Warner As A Governor?)
Saul Cornell, a history professor at Fordham University, told Check Your Fact in an email that the “specific claims…are not correct” but “rest on some accurate claims about Founding era laws.”
He noted that the early American government encouraged citizens to acquire military muskets or rifles but that “Those weapons were subject to inspection, and one could be disarmed for a number of reasons, the most important being a refusal to swear a loyalty oath to the government.”
“Organizing the militia required keeping track of who had weapons, what condition they were in, and involved inspection of those weapons and fines for failing to properly store weapons and maintain them in good working order,” said Cornell. “Something akin to a type of registration was present; the vast majority of white men were required to participate in the militia and their weapons were regulated, but not in the precise manner that you have been asked to fact check.”