Historical revisionists love to pretend that the human right to bear arms reflected in the Second Amendment was specifically confined to Colonial-era muskets, and only then in the service of the aims of the state. That is self-evidently false, as anyone with a passing familiarity with the speeches, letters, and broadsheets authored by the Founding Fathers would be able to tell you.
The Second Amendment did not create a right to bear arms.
When John Adams and his contemporaries wrote and then ratified the Second Amendment they were recognizing a pre-existing natural right of all people to be armed for their self defense.
The right to bear arms was always and continues to be an individual human right to allow you to protect your life, and the lives of those you love, and others you feel compelled to protect.
The Founders were explicit in their belief that any weapon that could be carried by a soldier should be available to the citizenry, as Founding Father Tenche Cox made clear in 1788, three years before the Second Amendment was ratified.
The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American … the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.
Would the Founders want Joe Six-Pack walking down the street with a M67 fragmentation grenade? We can only speculate, but I’m going to guess that they probably would not.
Would the Founders want grenades, cannon, and other “terrible implements of the soldier” available for militia service against enemies foreign and domestic? Almost certainly, though I suspect they would want the heavier weapons (up to and including artillery) under lock and key at an armory under the control of the local militias (not standing government forces, which includes the National Guard).
The Founders were clearly in favor of personal arms being retained by individual citizens, and they expected citizens to be both well-armed and well-trained with their guns (which is what they meant by “well-regulated”). These included multi-shot weapons, among them rifles with “high capacity” detachable magazines that existed more than a decade before the Second Amendment was written.
In their writings, the Founders were very clear that they wanted the citizenry to be able to use private arms for the following reasons:
- Defend individual lives, families, and communities along the frontiers against lawlessness, and attacks by Native Americans
- Defend against the threat of foreign invasion
- Defend against domestic tyranny in local, state, and federal government
It’s very important to note that these reasons intertwined and overlapped to varying degrees then, just as they do now.