Throughout most of the gun rights struggle, and especially In the wake of D.C. v. Heller, the focus of the right to keep and bear arms has been primarily on firearms. That certainly makes sense, given the supremacy of guns in the arena of self defense. However it is worth noting that there are other “arms” besides “firearms”, and the Second Amendment would seem to encompass many of these other arms too.
Other “arms” that would seem to be protected by the Second Amendment:
- Bow and arrow
- Polearms (such as spears, pikes, and bayonets)
Such a discussion may seem to be purely theoretical, however there are municipalities which have an outright ban on the possession of some above mentioned arms. Others allow impose restrictions on such arms, while allowing concealed carry of a firearm (which seems rather inconsistent). It would be interesting to see if any court cases involving Second Amendment challenges to the restriction of such arms are filed in the wake of D.C. v. Heller.
Other “arms” that are likely not protected by the Second Amendment:
- Nuclear weapons
- Land mines
- Main battle tanks
- Surface to air missiles
As entertaining as it was to make the above list, this is actually a serious issue. Anti gun organizations such as the ACLU try to argue that if the Second Amendment provides an individual right to keep and bear arms, then ordinary citizens would have the right to own their own nuclear weapons. Obviously that is a ridiculously untenable position, and a comparison with other constitutional rights will clear things up:
The First Amendment protects the right to free speech, however that does not mean that one may yell “fire” in crowed movie theater, or slander/libel their neighbor. The First Amendment, and other provisions of the constitution, also guarantee the right to privacy that underlies the right to abortion; however the government can certainly prohibit a woman from having an abortion when she is 8.99 months pregnant (so long as such a ban does not affect her life or health).
Similarly, as the Supreme Court stated in D.C. v. Heller, the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms for traditional lawful purposes, such as self defense. That means guns designed for such defensive purposes, rather than just sporting firearms. It does not, however, mean that a private citizen can own a nuclear weapon, or other weapon of mass destruction. The attempt by organizations such as the ACLU to suggest that the Second Amendment is an all or nothing proposition is hyperbole; constitutional scholars/attorneys have understood for quite a while that no right is without limits. In other words, a restriction upon a fundimental right must be narrowly tailored to serve a particular legitimate governmental interest. Keeping atomic bombs out of the hands of your average citizen is certainly constitutional. In my humble law student opinion, however, most of the gun regulations we have nowadays woudn’t seem to pass this test.