Legal History of “Dangerous and Unusual Weapons.”

While politics and legal analysis often go hand in hand, often the legal side can transcend daily politics. The Social Science Research Network is currently hosting a short, but fascinating analysis of the legal term “dangerous or unusual weapons” which has long been a term in the United States used to justify the restriction or outright ban of various classes of weapons.

The analysis suggests that even the courts Heller decision (lauded by proponents of the 2nd Amendment) may actually be too restrictive compared to the historical basis by which it rested its opinion.

Its a fun read, especially for those who enjoy legal reasoning. You can pick up the full text here.


The phrase “dangerous or unusual weapons” has long been used by American courts to justify prohibiting possession or carrying of particular classes of weapons. Examination of the history of this phrase shows it was neither as ancient nor as broadly prohibitive as many assume. Analogies to First Amendment case law suggest that the authority of the government may be more limited than D.C. v. Heller (2008) indicates.

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • PK

    “a short, but fascinating analysis”

    You weren’t kidding, this is good reading. Talk about a long-standing screwup, to base such laws and ideas on a source which never was.

    I truly enjoy the example of this sort of circular logic here, as well:

    “And what makes a weapon unusual? If it is prohibited, it is likely to be unusual because it is prohibited. This is a form of teleological definition. Once prohibited, a category of arms can be prohibited because it is unusual. Why is it unusual? Because it is prohibited.”

    • DZ

      So the question them should become, what processes can be started to overturn decisions and rulings based on an incorrect assumption, and who is willing to take up the cause to do so.

  • Cannoneer No. 4

    FIREARMS NOT POLITICS . . . even you guys don’t really mean it or you would not have an NFA/Suppressors/Class III section.

    • Captain Obvious

      Legal terms and definitions of legal concepts are debatable without being political. While they are often used as such they are not in themselves political.

      • Cannoneer No. 4

        Who makes laws?

        • Anonymoose

          The lizardpeople from Nibiru, obviously.

  • nova3930

    It’s hard to beat Cramer when it comes to concise legal analysis…

    • Mark

      Clayton is honest and moral… clearly unwelcome attributes in 21st century USA.