When British General Thomas Gage sent his men out on an ill-fated mission to confiscate the firearms of Colonials unhappy with British rule, he had no intention of triggering a war. It was his government’s belief that citizens should be disarmed so that they could not threaten what they viewed as a just government and a civil society. Gage “meant well” when he secreted a force of Royal Marines and British Regular infantry across the Charles River from Boston to Lechmere Point in longboats with the intention of raiding Lexington and Concord for powder, cannon, shot and other items of military utility.
Despite claims to the contrary, the primary arms of colonial militiamen in the mid-1770s were not rifles, but smooth-bore muskets technologically similar to those of their Redcoat adversaries. These could be fired rapidly for their day—four shots per minute—and Colonial militia were better trained; Redcoats did not even have an “aim” command in their manual of arms, but instead were ordered to “present” and “fire” and they often turned their heads to the side to do so.
After the Revolutionary War was over, the Constitution was ratified. Ten Amendments were added after a long, costly, and bloody war. These first Amendments were our Bill of Rights.
The Second Amendment came second only to the freedom to assemble and freedom of speech, and was written to explicitly guard all the hard-won rights purchased at a great cost of blood and treasure.
The Second Amendment was not written to protect firearms designed for the taking of game, nor for firearms designed for sport or individual personal defense, except that such a purpose proves to be militarily useful.
The explicit purpose that the Second Amendment was written, was so that civilians that comprised the militia and alarm list would be armed with military-capable arms to depose would-be tyrants.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, that meant flintlock muskets, which evolved to percussion muskets, which evolved to breach-loading rifles. After the disastrous performance of American rifles at the end of the 19th century, clip-fed bolt action rifles became the new standard which served through World War I. After the Great War, these same rifles came home in the hands of doughboys, and the 1903 and 1917 rifles are still used to this day by American civilian shooters.
The Second World War was America’s introduction to the Widespread use of semi-automatic rifles through the M1 Garand, and they are still being used today (I saw a dozen Garands this past weekend).
The military adopted the lighter weight, shorter range, smaller and less powerful AR-15 near the beginning of the Vietnam War, renamed it the M-16 and have used variants of it in every war since. Like at every previous time in our nation’s history, the standard military rifle of the day became the standard civilian rifle (though the automatic fire capability of the M16 is greatly regulated, and the semi-automatic Ar-15 is far more common, with millions in civilian hands).
These AR-15 rifles, their Soviet designed AK-variant opposites, and their NATO-developed counterparts are all explicitly protected by the 2nd Amendment, not just by law, but by explicit intent.
Those who would argue that the Founders who wrote the Second Amendment couldn’t have foreseen the creation of self-loading rifles are arguing an invalid point. The Second Amendment wasn’t about preserving a specific military technology for citizen use, but the preservation of the right to own arms of military utility for all Americans.
As the AR and AK platforms are by far the dominant military rifle designs of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Founders intended these arms and comparable arms of military utility to be in civilian hands, in great quantities, and for Americans to be proficient in their usage to a military standard.
The Second Amendment is written so that American citizens would always be able protect themselves from tyrants and enemies, both foreign and domestic. It codifies the preexisting right to own arms to defend one’s essential liberties, and woe to any would-be tyrants who attempt to strip Americans of that right.
The proper response to that infringement in 1775 was the near annihilation of a detachment of the finest land army of it’s day, at the hands of American militiamen.
Any modern attempt at a similar usurpation of power in the name of an encroaching government would likely lead to a Second American Revolution, to restore the Constitution from a government that increasingly views it as something to be discarded.