In short, guns today are capable of inflicting far more carnage than anything the framers could have imagined. [...] In itself, that isn't an argument for banning everything other than muskets. Technology evolves. It makes no more sense to say an AR-15 isn't protected by the Second Amendment than it does to say that computers or ballpoint pens aren't protected by the First. But evolving technology does call for evolving regulation.
Many anti-Second Amendment advocates use the silly argument that the Founding Fathers' intent is anachronistic since they couldn't envision greater weapons capability beyond muskets in their time. Really? This is easily disproven simply noting the evolution of firearm technology during the time prior to, and during, the Revolution. Matchlit progressed into matchlock, which progressed into flintlock and so forth. In fact, muskets were slowly being replaced by long rifles during the time of, and after the Revolution. Rifling gave shots increased accuracy over greater distances. Nock guns were the arms of choice for the British Navy, an experiment of sorts that lasted a short time because the recoil was powerful enough to break the shoulder of those firing them. In 1718 the "Puckle gun," the first machine gun, appeared. (One could argue that the so-called "assault rifle pre-dated the Second Amendment.) The Colt revolver followed not long after and in the late 1800s the Gatling gun, which fired 200 rounds per minute, appeared on the market. The evolution of firearms was observable during the time that the Constitution was drafted; to argue that the Founding Fathers were unaware of, or not living through, the ever-evolving capabilities of firearms is blatant ignorance of both common sense and fact. Jefferson himself was a noted collector and in letters explained what technological capabilities he favored in pieces over others in his collection. The Founders were quite clear on their views regarding firearms. In fact, earlier proposed language of the Second Amendment read as such:
And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms. - Samuel Adams (February 6, 1788); Charles Hale, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1856)
From Jefferson's drafts of the Virginia constitution:
"No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms."
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.
There is no question that the chief concern motivating the inclusion of the Second Amendment was to protect the citizenry from tyranny at home. Furthermore:
Other figures of the period were of like mind. In the Virginia convention, George Mason, drafter of the Virginia Bill of Rights, accused the British of having plotted "to disarm the people--that was the best and most effective way to enslave them", while Patrick Henry observed that "The great object is that every man be armed" and "everyone who is able may have a gun." [...] Prior to the Civil War, the Supreme Court of the United States likewise indicated that the privileges of citizenship included the individual right to own and carry firearms.
And here is the introduction and initial reason from the left for gun control:
Following the Civil War, the legislative efforts which gave us three amendments to the Constitution and our earliest civil rights acts likewise recognized the right to keep and bear arms as an existing constitutional right of the individual citizen and as a right specifically singled out as one protected by the civil rights acts and by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, against infringement by state authorities. Much of the reconstruction effort in the South had been hinged upon the creation of "black militias" composed of the armed and newly freed blacks, officered largely by black veterans of the Union Army. In the months after the Civil War, the existing southern governments struck at these units with the enactment of "black codes" which either outlawed gun ownership by blacks entirely, or imposed permit systems for them, and permitted the confiscation of firearms owned by blacks. When the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was debated members both of the Senate and the House referred to the disarmament of blacks as a major consideration.
The British Brown Bess, the main firearm of the British Army, and the main weapon used by the Colonial Forces at the start of the American Revolution, was a 74 caliber, firing a 69 caliber ball.
Time did not limit the scope of the Founders regarding this issue. Gains in capabilities does not erode our Second Amendment rights no more than advances in broadcasting and print erode our rights as enumerated in the First Amendment. (A h/t to caller Greg) *UPDATE: Tracy reminds me of the Belton gun:
... a modification that could be made to flintlock muskets to allow rapid firing of multiple shots with a single loading. Congress was interested in the invention, and it was demonstrated before noted scientists and military officers (including well known scientist David Rittenhouse and General Horatio Gates), but was rejected due to Belton's demand for what Congress considered excessive fees for the use of Belton's design.
A fully automatic rifle of which Congress was aware. What was that about muskets? WaPo is predictably clueless.