In Defense of the Right to Bear Flintlock Muskets

Jeffrey Levin is a Los Angeles-based cultural affairs writer and editor

The latest tragic events at a suburban San Diego high school no doubt will fuel renewed debate over the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution.

The amendment, if you haven’t read it lately, states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The problem with the recurring debate over the 2nd Amendment is that it never gets past the word “right.” The real question is: What arms are we talking about?


In 1789, when the first 10 constitutional amendments--now known at the Bill of Rights--were proposed by the 1st Congress of the United States, the most common small arms were flintlock muskets and pistols.

Here’s what it took to load and fire one of these puppies:

Gunpowder and the shot, which came in little greased paper pouches, had to be poured into the barrel of the weapon. Powder first, shot second. Both were then rammed tight with a ramrod. That done, the little greased paper that had been holding the powder and shot got rammed in the muzzle too, just to hold everything in place.

Then a small amount of powder had to be put into a little pan outside the barrel. The gunman then aimed--no sights, mind you, he just looked down the barrel--and pulled the trigger. This caused the flint mechanism to send a spark through a hole in the barrel, which set off the gunpowder.

If you were really good, you could pull this off in 30 seconds. The more average Johnny Patriot needed a minute.

One shot in 60 seconds. Not the other way around. So here’s what I believe:

I believe that the framers of the Bill of Rights intended that the right of every American citizen to bear flintlock muskets and pistols should not be infringed.

I believe that American citizens today--without fingerprinting, without a license, without a background check--ought to be able to own as many flintlock muskets and pistols as they want. If they want to fill up their garages with them, that should be nobody’s business but their own. If they want to load them up into their pick-up trucks and drive around public streets with them, the Constitution says they can.


Today’s more effective weapons did not exist at the time the 2nd Amendment was approved, so who can legitimately say that the amendment applies to them? But no U.S. government has the right to take away a man’s or woman’s flintlock musket or pistol. If we’re talking about what was intended by the 2nd Amendment--that’s what was intended by the 2nd Amendment.

I think even gun control fanatics will be with me on this. And here’s why. If some musket-owning American who is one neuron short of a synapse takes it into his head to start firing at innocent people, at best he’s only going to get off a single shot.

Because in the time it would take him to load or reload, right-minded American citizens who don’t believe that firing your gun at whoever you want is a constitutionally protected right will be all over him like a cheap suit.

And that, I believe, is exactly what the founding fathers intended.