Of all the ill-considered tropes that are trotted out in anger during our ongoing debate over gun control, perhaps the most irritating is the claim that the Constitution may indeed protect firearms, but it says “nothing at all about bullets.”
On its face, this is flatly incorrect. Quite deliberately, the Bill of Rights is worded so as to shield categories and not specifics, which is why the First Amendment protects the “press” and not “ink”; why the Fourth covers “papers” and “effects” instead of listing every item that might be worn about one’s person; and why the Fifth insists broadly that one may not be deprived of “life, liberty, or property” and leaves the language there. The “right of the people” that is mentioned in the Second Amendment is not “to keep and bear guns” or “to keep and bear ammunition” but “to keep and bear arms,” which, per Black’s Law Dictionary, was understood in the 18th century to include the “musket and bayonet”; “sabre, holster pistols, and carbine”; an array of “side arms”; and any accoutrements necessary for their operation. To propose that a government could restrict access to ammunition without gutting the Second Amendment is akin to proposing that a government could ban churches without hollowing out the First. If a free people are to enjoy their liberties without encumbrance, the prerequisite tools must be let well alone.