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The right to bear missile launchers; Where do we draw the line?

March 6, 2013

As you might guess, there’s a lot of discussion on the Internet on each side of the gun rights/gun control showdown. Particularly revealing is talk about what the Second Amendment, which was adopted in 1791, means in the 21st century and how to apply it in our times.

On one hand, there are gun control advocates who say that the Founding Fathers surely weren’t talking about protecting modern-day, military-style armaments and high-capacity automatic weapons. Therefore, they assert, these weapons legitimately can and should be regulated. They also ask, “Who needs these kinds of weapons for hunting, sports and recreation in any case?”

This latter line of reasoning entirely misses the point for gun rights advocates, who understand that the Second Amendment was not written to protect guns for hunting and recreation. The amendment does not even talk about bearing arms to protect ourselves, our families and our property, a right the Supreme Court acknowledged only in the last decade. Instead, the amendment talks about the right of citizen militias to bear arms—by implication, to fight against (and overthrow) an oppressive government, the kind of tyrannical reign the Colonists felt under King George III. (The Founding Fathers were, after all, revolutionaries.)

Perhaps you can see where this line of reasoning is going. So let us float the argument that the Second Amendment protects the rights of citizens to arm themselves to be revolutionaries. And now, let’s add 21st century military hardware to the mix. If bands of citizens need to take up arms against some future, despotic (hypothetical) U.S. government, they had better have heavy firepower to go up against the nation’s modern-day army. Does the amendment then protect the right of a citizen to own a TOW-2 anti-tank missile made by Raytheon, or a HELLFIRE II missile or 70mm DAGR missile from Lockheed Martin? What about high-capacity magazines for automatic weapons?

As a society, where do we draw the line? And don’t say we can’t draw a line.

The Supreme Court’s most conservative justice, Antonin Scalia, has said quite plainly that gun ownership is not an unlimited right. In a July 2012 interview on Fox News, Scalia said, “There are some limitations that can be imposed…. It will have to be decided in future cases what limitations upon the right to bear arms are permissible. Some undoubtedly are…. What they are will depend on what the society understood were reasonable limitations at the time.”