What the Second Amendment Does (and Does Not) Cover

What does “the right to bear arms” mean? Are there any weapons a U.S. citizen cannot own? Can they own rocket launchers and bazookas and other weapons of war?

A Changing Interpretation

Up until 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held the view that people could not even own sawed-off shotguns. The reasoning was that these guns could not be reasonably viewed as “ordinary military equipment” necessary for the common defense.” And that was the original purpose of a militia. With the District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008, though, the Court’s view shifted radically. It ruled that a weapon did not have to be connected to service in a militia in order to be legally owned. As long as the weapon was not “dangerous” or “unusual,” it could be owned. Thankfully (and logically), weapons of mass destruction containing nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological materials fall into the category of prohibited arms.

The Answer to the Question

So getting back to the original question: can a U.S. citizen own a rocket launcher or bazooka? The answer depends on how the words “dangerous” and “unusual” are interpretted. All weapons are dangerous, to some extent, so is a bazooka too dangerous or just dangerous enough to be okay? If you look online the answer seems to be, “Yes,” but with two very significant caveats.

The most important caveat: sales of weapons like these are tightly controlled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). Because they are classified as destructive devices. If a person found a weapon for sale legally, they would have to register it. And then obtain a $200 tax stamp for the weapon from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This latter step can take between 10 and 12 months. For details on the rules established by the ATF, refer to their Question and Answers page.

The second important caveat: After obtaining the weapon, the buyer would likely find it nearly impossible to obtain ammunition for it. Even in America, you cannot by rockets for rocket launchers at gun stores. And even if the person did find ammunition, they would have to pay taxes on each round of ammunition. In some cases, they would also have to prove that they were qualified to transport and store the explosives.


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