The post-Newtown debate over gun control and the Second Amendment has pitted advocates of gun control against believers in the Second Amendment. Proponents of gun control (generally the same group as opponents of mass killings) can't see the sporting purpose in allowing people to possess and use 25- and 50-round ammunition clips. Opponents of gun control strongly object to federal and state governments limiting their ability to buy and own any sort of weaponry.
Some government restrictions on private armories apparently withstand a Second Amendment attack: for example, we can't own machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and tactical nuclear weaponry. If the Second Amendment protects individual rights as broadly as its backers say it does, then the government can't prohibit us from owning these useful items of destruction.
How, then, can the Supreme Court make a principled interpretation of the Second Amendment that protects the private right to own guns without opening the door to my homeowners' association acquiring first-strike capability? It occurred to me that the doctrine of original intent, favored by Justices Thomas and Scalia, offers an answer.
The doctrine of original intent states that the Supreme Court should interpret the constitution in accordance with the intent of the Framers -- that is, the original intent of the document -- rather than to accommodate changes in politics and society. Not every justice agrees with this, but it is a useful starting point.
The Second Amendment states that as a well-regulated militia is necessary for defense, the right of the people to bear arms shall not be abridged. Most people who talk about the Framers' intent focus on what is meant by a well-regulated militia, and argue that the right to bear arms should be limited to the right to bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia. I suggest that we should look instead at the Framers' intent in using the words "defense" and "arms."
"Defense" has a plain and simple meaning. It means defending territory that one already possesses, rather than attacking territory that one does not possess. People can defend their homes. ("A man's home is his ammunition cache," as the saying might be revised to read.) People can as part of a militia defend their counties and states from invasion and insurrection. It's consistent with that reading to say that people can't take guns to schools and shopping centers.
Similarly, the term "arms" meant to the Framers single-shot rifles and pistols, swords, bayonets, catapults, and cannons. "Arms" didn't include automatic and semi-automatic guns, tanks, rocket launchers, and nuclear bombs. A creative legislature might adopt, and an alert judge might uphold, a gun control measure that protected the right of the people to keep flintlocks at home to protect themselves against intruders, and prohibited people from carrying weaponry on the street. I think the judge could even quote from opinions of several conservative members of the Supreme Court to show that the prohibition is consistent with the original intent of the writers of the Constitution. It would be an amusing and possibly worthwhile exercise.