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Sorry Protesters, but ‘Muskets!’ Is Not a Good Argument


For the anti-NRA protesters assembled outside the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, this is a common pose:

This intrigues me. We’ve all heard this “muskets” argument before; the implication being that the founding fathers could “never have imagined” modern weapons and that, therefore, the Second Amendment should be interpreted to protect only weapons that were around at the time of ratification. Conservatives quite rightly bristle at this, and respond that if that were true then the First Amendment wouldn’t protect the Internet, digital printing, radio, and so forth. The Bill of Rights, we insist, is not vestigial — it is timeless.

This is true, but there is a better argument: If the Second Amendment did apply to muskets — which seemingly everybody concedes — it therefore applied to what were military weapons. The founding fathers, by the anti-gun brigade’s own logic, were happy for the citizenry to possess the same weapons as did the state. They may be “just muskets” now, but at the time they were deadly. Read George Orwell on how powerful citizens with muskets were relative to the state.

The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere. Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day.

If we’re supposed to apply this principle today, we should surely be liberalizing which weapons the people may own in order to ensure parity between citizen and state. Unregulated machine guns anyone?

I thought not.


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