I received an email from a former student concerning the limitations of the 2nd Amendment. He was posing the question for a friend, and my first impression was that his friend didn't fully comprehend the actual intent and meaning of the 2nd Amendment. Here's the conversation. Please, you tell me if I'm off the track or not: Friend: A friend of mine who is not anti-gun in any way asked me a question the other day that caused me to stop and think. I'm not sure how to answer him. More than that, I'm not sure what the answer actually is. I'm sending this to people on my mailing list that have either previously expressed concerns for how the Second Amendment is being interpreted today or might otherwise have interest in the question. Here's my friends question about the 2nd Amendment: 'The <second> amendment does not say "small arms." In fact, it states that the reason for the right is so that citizens can form an effective military force (a militia). So do we as individuals have a right to own a 50-caliber machine gun, an RPG, a tank, artillery, warships or aircraft, or nuclear "arms"? If not, why not? Where's the distinction? You cannot say that it only applies to the kind of arms that were in existence when the Amendment was adopted. The Constitution does not work that way, and if it did, individuals would only have the right to own single-shot muskets and crude cannons. So where's the distinction?' Please let me know what you think. DoubleActionCHL: Well, first off, he is mistaken about the purpose of the 2nd Amendment. The idea that we have the right to keep and bear arms to form a militia is an erroneous contemporary interpretation. First, you must understand the purpose of the Bill of Rights. The first ten Amendments of the Constitution enumerate certain "unalienable rights" which we are "endowed by our creator." In other words, it recognizes our God-given rights. With this in mind, it simply makes no sense that we, as humans, own the right to defend ourselves only to the extent that a militia is necessary. I suggest your friend invest in a bit of history. He'll understand, based on writings of the framers of the Constitution, that they were terribly concerned about the expansion of powers of a large, central government. From historical precedent, they were painfully aware that large, powerful central government would quickly evolve into a tyrannical overlord, abusing its citizens. The primary instrument of abuse was the standing army. It is for this reason that our Founding Fathers rejected the idea of a standing army. Instead, they favored a militia made of up the citizenry. The 2nd Amendment acknowledges that a free nation must be able to protect itself, otherwise it ceases to be free, hence the mention of the militia. The framers believed this militia was a necessary evil, as it could be turned against its own citizens. An armed citizenry was a necessary counterbalance against this militia. Citizens retain the right to bear arms for self-defense, therefore it stands to reason that the weapons citizens might possess are defensive weapons. Defensive against whom? As much as our government refuses to admit it, defense against a tyrannical federal government is the primary function of the 2nd Amendment. As the strength of the government grows, so should the strength of the citizenry. "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty." Thomas Jefferson Friend: I'm sorry, I didn't intend to trigger an extended discussion about why we have the 2nd Amendment and that wasn't the subject that I was interested in getting your views on. He and I both believe in the individual right to bear arms so we're all in agreement there. Both he and I agree that the point of the 2nd amendment "defense against a tyrannical federal government" so we're all in agreement there as well. The issue in my friends question is since 2nd Amendment discussions are most often about hand guns, although rifles and shotguns get in there sometimes, what about other kinds of "arms"? "do we as individuals have a right to own a 50-caliber machine gun, an RPG, a tank, artillery, warships or aircraft, or nuclear "arms"? If not, why not? Where's the distinction?"What the distinction was about what "arms" I could bear was what I was asking about. FYI: Your third paragraph starts off "I suggest your friend invest in a bit of history.". Neither of us would disagree with the rest of that paragraph, anyone who paid attention in high school American history class would have to agree. As far as my friend investing in a bit of history, Tracy, on this subject, he is without a doubt the most well read, well researched non-academic I've ever met. So what do you think, does the 2nd Amendment grant me the right or acknowledge my right to have a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on the back of my pickup or perhaps park an M-1 Abrams in my driveway? DoubleActionCHL: You contend that your friend's knowledge of history is adequate, yet you restated his belief that the 2nd Amendment's purpose was to populate a militia. This is in error. My discussion on the 2nd Amendment was simply to clarify your friend's misconceptions. In discussing the limitations of arms, one must first understand the original intent of the 2nd Amendment. I believe I answered your question, however. I stated the intent of the 2nd Amendment, then suggested that, with this defensive intent in mind, as the federal government grows stronger, so should the populace. The idea was to keep the federal government in check. I realize that, in contemporary terms, it seems a bit odd to suggest that American citizens be allowed to purchase and possess an RPG, but if we are to live by the spirit of the 2nd Amendment, this would be necessary to maintain the balance of power. The alternative is to simply give up and relegate ourselves to the status of "subject." --------------------- So, while I may have been a bit harsh in my comment regarding his friend's knowledge of history, am I on the mark regarding the 2nd Amendment? Also, (and I realize I'm reaching) what is YOUR opinion of the limitations of the 2nd Amendment. Should we, in fact, be limited to 'small arms,' or does the purpose and spirit of the 2nd Amendment extend the right of the people's armament to equal that of the federal government? This should be a good discussion!!!!