PolitiFact: Did Founding Fathers demand muskets for all?

2:26 p.m Friday, May 19, 2017 MyStatesman.com
Eric Thayer
Ted Cruz: “The first Congress passed a law mandating that every able-bodied man must own a musket.”

To whoops and applause, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz told National Rifle Association members there was a time that Congress required men to own guns.

In his April 28 speech, the Texas Republican pointed out that muskets were vital in American revolutionary times and “what everybody carried into combat.”

“Anyone know the first gun control laws in the United States?” Cruz went on. “The first Congress passed a law mandating that every able-bodied man must own a musket. That’s gun control Founding Fathers’ style.”

After unsuccessfully seeking Cruz’s historical backup, we turned to a George Washington University historian, Kenneth Russell Bowling, who told us that he was fresh off contributing to the publication of 22 volumes of papers related to the earliest years of Congress. Bowling said that Cruz was likely referring to a measure passed into law by the nation’s second Congress in 1792.

The Library of Congress pointed us to documentation of the Second Militia Act of 1792, approved by Congress on May 8, 1792 — six days after passage of the Militia Act of 1792 (which was repealed in 1795) giving the president authority to call out state militias to repel U.S. invasions and state insurrections.

The second act required “each and every free able-bodied white male citizen” ages 18 through 44 to enroll in his state militia within the next year with the exception of the vice president, other federally elected officials and specified workers such as “all ferrymen employed at any ferry on the post road” as well as individuals exempted by state laws.

Per Cruz’s claim, the law said every enrolled man “shall within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball.”

Our ruling:

Cruz said: “The first Congress passed a law mandating that every able-bodied man must own a musket.”

Action by the nation’s second Congress wasn’t that far-reaching. The law required states to create militias to be staffed by some able-bodied white men ages 18 through 44 who were to provide their own muskets and other supplies. Excused from militia service: Officials ranging from the vice president to certain workers and also anyone exempted by a state.

We rate this claim Half True.