EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on gun rights. Each addresses a common anti-gun trope.

“Do you think the Second Amendment gives you the right to own a nuclear bomb!?”

Believe it or not, there are people who trot this argument out. It is both a reductio ad absurdum fallacy and a straw man fallacy, in that you don’t generally find gun rights supporters out there claiming that they should be allowed to own nuclear bombs. Sure, there are wackos out there who’ll extend their argument that far, but they’re, well, wackos, and we don’t dismiss an argument because some idiot says something idiotic. But, these are rational responses to what is in essence an irrational argument. The correct first response?

Don’t be stupid.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets continue with a rational deconstruction of this reductio ad absurdum.

Consider, first, the roots in liberty of a right to bear arms. If I own myself and the fruit of my labor, I have the right to do with myself as I wish, provided I do not infringe on the equal self-ownership of another. That includes the right to defend myself (and my property i.e. the fruit of my labor) against aggressors. I can use whatever means I can conceive of to effect that defense (again, respecting the rights of others). Just as I can put a fence around my property, just as I can put a lock on my front door, I can use tools to defend myself. A gun is a very effective self-defense tool, especially if I am smaller or weaker than my opponent, or if my opponent is armed with a tool (a club, a knife, a gun) that could end my life.

The criterion of self-defense thus puts an upper limit on the tools I can use in that regard. A gun is a reasonable means of self-defense in that it can be targeted at specific aggressors. A bomb is not. Neither is a bazooka, or a flame thrower, or a nuclear device. The probability of collateral damage, i.e. infringing the rights of others, is too high. This is how we define “arms.”

Now, consider the special mention of “militias” in the Second Amendment. The Constitution enumerated specific individual rights, but it also recognized (in the 9th Amendment) that other rights exist and that listing some did not “deny or disparage” others. Freedom to move about, individual privacy, and freedom of association are fundamental rights, but they are not protected explicitly by Amendments 1-8. Consider the Second Amendment in that fashion. Yes, it protects our right to bear arms, but the right to self-defense is so obvious that it offers an explicit political reason for the special call-out.

The Founders recognized that a free state relied on an armed populace. Armed, both so that it could be called upon to defend the nation against aggressors and so that the government could not turn against the people. Thus, “arms” refers to those a militiaman might be expected to use with proficiency. The proficiency aspect is what gave us the “well regulated” phrase: in the vernacular of the time, it meant that someone knew how to shoot straight. So, we can reasonably infer that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that private citizens could, if they chose, possess the “arms” that a footsoldier would. This, too, utterly defenestrates the “nuclear bomb” argument – there’s no rationale by which a private citizen could argue that possession and proficiency of nuclear bombs fulfills the purpose of the Second Amendment.

Thus, we have both a fundamental right of self defense and a Constitutional protection of the right to bear arms to provide context for what constitutes the “arms” we can legitimately claim the right to own and use.


_**Gun rights lesson #747: “Arms” are the tools an individual can use for self-defense, as an individual defender of the nation, and as an individual defender against tyranny. Nuclear bombs do not, even remotely, fit that definition. And, don’t be stupid. **_

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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