What “arms” are protected by the Second Amendment? The text is explicit: “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.”

Since this is a right, the people, not the government, decide. The arms they keep in their homes and carry on their persons are protected. These include arms that are useful in a militia in order to secure a free state.

In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects “arms ‘in common use at the time’ for lawful purposes like self-defense” and arms that are “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” Such arms are “chosen by American society,” not the government.

Heller was not the first court to enunciate the common-use test. For instance, the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Kerner (1921) upheld the constitutional right to carry a pistol openly without a license. To the citizen, “the rifle, the musket, the shotgun, and the pistol are about the only arms which he could be expected to ‘bear,’ and his right to do this is that which is guaranteed by the Constitution,” said the ruling.