An old gun control meme that we have been hearing for years has been making a serious comeback as of late: The founders only meant the Second Amendment’s reference to ‘arms’ to apply to muskets.This certainly means that people cannot own cannons or nuclear weapons.

There are a lot of reasons why this is a false statement, but I will give you my favorite:
Letters of marque. The issuing of letters of marque are mentioned in the Constitution as one of the enumerated powers of Congress. You see, piracy was a crime punishable by death, and any nation’s warship that caught a pirate would hang them on sight. However, it was considered a matter of national policy if a nation were to attack the trading vessels of a nation with which they were engaged in hostilities. So, national governments would issue a letter to the owner or captain of a naval vessel, authorizing him to raid and capture the vessels flying another country’s flag. These letters were called “letters of marque.”

A letter of marque would be issued, first describing the ship by the number and type of guns on board, and then naming the captain being granted the letter, and then the specific actions that he could perform under this letter. Guns being the naval definition: seagoing cannons. Since it is necessary for a captain to already own his warship before being granted the letter, this is pretty strong evidence that the founders had no trouble with private citizens owning the equivalent to a modern day destroyer.

This is actually how the colonials were able to cut off the supplies coming to the British army. At one point, the privateers were hiring so many sailors to man ships for these letters of marque, that Washington was having trouble finding soldiers for the land army. There are an excellent couple of books on this fascinating bit of Revolutionary War history, and these are the two that I recommend:

George Washington’s Secret Navy
Patriot Pirates

Certainly if the founders were to think it wise and prudent for citizens to own warships, they would have no problem with modern day implements like fighter jets, artillery, or any number of other weapons. I would agree that nuclear weapons have little use in private hands, but my position on this is simple: Amend the constitution to say something similar to:
AMENDMENT: Be it resolved that the states and the people declare that the right to ‘arms’ protected by the Second Amendment do not include the right to keep and bear nuclear or biological weapons. The right and power to keep and bear nuclear and biological weapons is reserved to the states and to the union. Congress and the States have the power to restrict ownership of such weapons by individual citizens, and may pass laws in the furtherance of same.

I’m sure you would have little problem passing and ratifying such an amendment.

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SiGraybeard · January 20, 2013 at 12:05 am

I propose you amend your amendment to add chemical weapons. (It never ceases to amaze me that the Germans in WWI thought chemical weapons were fine but shotguns were inhumane.)

I had someone pull that old argument on me. I pointed out that muskets were the AR of their day; all the proof you need is the fact that a bunch of farmers beat the superpower of their day with a mix of muskets and long rifles.

Divemedic · January 20, 2013 at 3:28 am

I thought about that, but was afraid it would get twisted. After all, gun powder is a chemical.

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