What Guns Would the Founders Ban?

That was true at the time of the founding, when the militia was armed with the same Brown Bess and Charleville muskets as professional military units. It was true when U.S. soldiers carried single-shot Springfield rifles beside frontiersmen armed with more advanced Henrys and Winchesters. And it has been true for the 108 years that the Civilian Marksmanship Program has provided military weapons to civilians to help them become the “well-regulated” (well-trained) militia the founders respected.

The militia is not a relic to be retired along with the fife and drum. It is the way the community defends itself against all comers -- both against those actions that are overtly criminal and those hiding behind the color of law.

It is the armed citizen that holds the line when the police run away and the National Guard fails. It is the militia that overthrows tyranny. Sadly, it is also a fact that the lack of a properly armed citizenry has allowed tyranny to sometimes prevail.

It is only logical that, to remain the nation the founders intended us to be, “we the people” should be armed and equipped similarly to our professional soldiers. The founders would approve of the citizenry and the military being armed with small arms that use the same ammunition, magazines, and optics as those used by our military professionals.

Doubtless, the modern civilian AR-15 rifle and its variants are the modern “militia guns” the founders would approve of today. These semi-automatic firearms, which best accord with the militia function the founders recognized, must be regarded as the contemporary firearm best protected by the Second Amendment as written and conceived.

The most common magazine issued with these firearms holds 30 rounds of ammunition. For these and similar firearms, this is not high but standard capacity. Any attempt to ban such magazines would cut directly against the clear intent of the Second Amendment.

The people are the militia, and the militia -- not the government -- is the ultimate guardian of this nation’s liberty from one generation to the next. Any attempts to break that covenant in the guise of public safety are to be met with with derision, and if necessary, force -- a point made clear by William Rawle, U.S. attorney for Pennsylvania and President George Washington’s nominee to be first attorney general of the United States:

The corollary, from the first position, is that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The prohibition is general. No clause in the Constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to congress a power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretence by a state legislature. But if in any blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both. (A View of the Constitution of the United States of America, 125-26 [2d ed., 1829].)