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
It’s hard to come up with a fair-minded, non-ideological reading of the Second Amendment that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that it wasn’t intended to be an absolute right of every individual to own a personal arsenal for vigilantism. Rather, it was to ensure there would be sufficient numbers of appropriately armed men to serve in local militias mustered in response to invasions, Indian raids and rebellions.
Militias weren’t considered some haphazard gaggle of yokels with guns. The Militia Act of 1792 was very specific about how militia men should be outfitted:
every citizen, so enrolled and notified, 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; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack
When the Second Amendment was adopted, a “well regulated militia” was composed of men armed with muskets that in the hands of an experienced shooter could fire about three rounds per minute. He was supplied with 20-24 rounds. The basic small fighting group, as described in the Militia Act of 1792, was a company, composed of 64 privates commanded by about a dozen officers and non-commissioned officers. If all were firing their weapons at an average rate, a company could fire about 225 rounds a minute, and the killing range of their muskets was about 80-100 yards.
Compare the musket’s lethal effectiveness to that of the AR-15. The AR-15 was one of the weapons used by Aurora murderer Aurora murderer James Holmes, was the sole weapon of last week’s Oregon mall murderer Jacob Roberts. It is very similar to the Bushmaster carbine found in the car of Newtown murderer Adam Lanza and used by Beltway Snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo. The AR-15 has an effective range of over 500 yards, over five times the range of a musket. Standard clips hold 20-30 rounds (although they can be fitted with drum magazines that hold 100 rounds). Even with smaller capacity clips, like used by Holmes, they can fire a tremendous number of highly lethal bullets (far more lethal than the balls of lead flung by eighteenth century muskets). In one minute Holmes fired more than 50 rounds in to the Aurora movie theater.
When the Second Amendement was adopted, it took 16 or 17 men to fire off as many rounds in one minute as one deranged lunatic fired in to a movie theater. If those 16 or 17 men with muskets advanced toward one person with an AR-15, they would have to walk a quarter of a mile under lethal gunfire from one person with an AR-15 before they could get in range to fire a lethal shot from their musket. It they advanced across an open field against a skilled marksman, they would all be killed before they ever got close enough to fire a shot from their own weapons. And four James Holmes’–or two pairs of Muhammad/Malvo or Harris/Klebold–with weapons easily acquired today, could mow down an entire “well regulated militia” before that militia would have been in range to fire a shot.
The Second Amendment ensured that Americans could arm themselves with a musket. But the courts have repeatedly concluded that Americans aren’t entitled to arm themselves with a Browning .50 caliber machine gun. I’d like to think Scalia and his majority on the Supreme Court would stop being blockheads and acknowledge that an AR-15 or a Bushmaster is much closer to a .50 caliber machine gun than it is to the muskets of the militiamen of 1792. But I’m not holding my breath.