Is there a constitutional right to own assault rifles?

Is there a constitutional right to own AK-47s and AR-15s? Did the founding fathers have any idea that such killing machines would be invented? Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2012 — There has been hotly renewed debate recently about gun control, and whether a gun ban would have saved lives in the Aurora tragedy. Considering the theater where the shooting occurred actually banned guns, another gun ban probably would have failed completely.

But there’s another angle to the gun control debate that hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it should have. Is there a constitutional right to own assault rifles? Do we have the right, under the constitution, to own fearsom AK-47s and AR-15s?

To answer the question, we need to just look at the text of the Amendment itself:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The answer is crystal clear: Yes, there is a constitutional right to own all types of rifle, including ones that scare liberals and those who only trust the government with guns.

The original intent of the Second Amendment

There are few topics as open and shut as the meaning of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. At the time the Constitution was written, the states sent formal requests that the Second Amendment be added, and explained in detail what they wanted it to mean. The original intent of the Second Amendment is clear, even if some have tried for a century to ignore and “rewrite” it.

We even have records written by the founding fathers in which they explicitly state what the Second Amendment means. The wording of the Second Amendment itself is brutally clear about what it protects. There is no ambiguity.

Before the Second Amendment was ever drafted, New Hampshire’s assembly wanted the Constitution to protect the right of the people to own firearms. They declared, “Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion.”

They were explicit: The government wouldn’t be able to disarm anyone not actively fighting the US government. Notice the emphasis on “any citizen.” This emphasizes that gun ownership is an individual right, not some sort of “collective” right as anti-gun critics sometimes claim.

The Bill of Rights was written to include this protection, and explicitly says, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It isn’t a right of state militias, but of the people. The purpose is also clear: The right exists for the sake of a militia, so that it is able to protect the “security of a free state.”

This seems to beg the question, are “the people” and the “militia” different concepts? Some liberals claim they are, but this is historically absurd. The two are one and the same, as the founders repeatedly said during the debates on the Second Amendment.

George Mason, one of the most influential founders, said the following: “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.”

Any historical look at the views of the other states, the other founders, and the meaning of “militia” makes it abundantly clear. The militia are the people, and the people have the right to keep and bear arms for the sake of liberty. In other words, the goal is to make sure that the people can be a fighting military force that can keep the government and foreigners in check.

Hunting is nice, but the Second Amendment is about more than that. It’s about a military force – the people being a well-armed militia.

What if we only ban “assault rifles”?

Many people try to mix what they know the Constitution says and what they want to be true. Some people want to ban some guns and not others.

President Obama recently said that AK-47s should be left in the hands of soldiers, and not on the streets. Of course, he seems to be missing the fact that in America, all men comprise the militia, constitutionally speaking. But we’ll let that slide for now.

Does it violate the constitution to ban AK-47s or other scary guns? Most of the time people talk about AK-47s and other military-style rifles as if they’re more dangerous than other guns, you can usually bet money that they’ve never seen one in person, have never fired one, and simply don’t understand guns in general.

There are exceptions, but this is generally the case. If we only see guns on TV, we’re likely to misunderstand them.

Either way, the argument still goes along these lines: You have the right to keep and bear arms, but just guns for self-defense and nothing too dangerous. This misses the point completely. The Second Amendment was specifically about making the people dangerous to tyrants.  

This is constitutionally unavoidable.

Ownership of military-style weapons is precisely what is protected by the Second Amendment, because that’s the entire point in the first place.

Even if we ignore the Amendment’s obvious purpose, a ban on “assualt” weapons is still blatantly unconstitutional. It’s like saying that the freedom of religion means you can have most religions, but not Islam.

Would a ban on Islam be constitutional? Of course not. The same goes for banning “some” guns. Any gun ban is a violation of the Second Amendment. This is unavoidable.

Does the Second Amendment only protect muskets?

One of the more common and yet absurd arguments on this topic is that the founders didn’t realize that the AK-47 would be invented, and that people would be able to shoot more than one bullet a minute. The general idea is that because guns look dangerous on TV, we should then ban them. The Second Amendment is irrelevant because the founders just didn’t know what kind of guns would be invented.

By this logic, if Bush had banned the Internet, that would have been constitutional, because the founders certainly didn’t know the Internet was going to be invented when they wrote the First Amendment.

The “they didn’t know” argument instantly collapses.

You have the right to own modern military rifles for the same reason you have the constitutional right to use the Internet to disagree with me – because the constitution protects that right.

Is there a constitutional right to own nuclear warheads?

Whatever the morality of posessing nukes, there is simply no constitutional right. The Second Amendment’s was designed to create a fighting force of people who can “keep and bear arms.”

The historical definition and context of “arms” meant essentially weapons that individuals could carry on their person. This means firearms, swords, spears, bows and arrows, etc. This includes quite a bit, but it doesn’t include nuclear warheads. 

There is a right to own all firearms.

The Second Amendment wasn’t written just so we could hunt animals. It was written so that the militia – which is comprised of the people – would have the right to individually keep and bear military rifles.

That was whole point of the amendment. That means that a ban on scary-looking guns would be a complete violation of the Constitution. A supposed tyrannical government would have the latest and greatest arms, and so should the people’s militia. 

The Second Amendment still covers modern guns for the same reason the First Amendment covers the Internet and blogs. The Second Amendment protects all guns from being banned for the same reason the First Amendment protects all religions from being banned.

This is why it matters that we don’t ban “assault” rifles. They’re not magical. They’re just like other guns, meaning they’re dangerous and deadly. And that’s why Americans should own them – because the American people should be a dangerous and deadly force that our own government and foreign governments should be a little concerned about.

It’s just what’s necessary for the security of a free state.

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Shaun Connell

Shaun Connell is an investor, writer, and entrepreneur passionate about economics, finance, and politics.

Shaun is the editor of Capitalism Institute, where he writes about economic principles and political theory. He’s also the author of Live Gold Prices, where he reviews important economic and market news.

Passionate about economics and liberty, Shaun was naturally drawn to the Austrian approach to human behavior, and tries to write all of his content from such an angle.

Shaun also enjoys nice cigars, good bourbon, and grilling as often as he can.


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