Buried deep in the comments...
Buried deep in the comments section of the Volokh Conspiracy is this jewel from Clayton Cramer, on what armaments were commonly possessed by the people of the United States at the time the 2nd Amendment was ratified:
My new book Armed America (Nelson Current, 2007) answers some of the questions about what arms were in common civilian ownership when the Second Amendment was ratified. I cite ads offering "hand grenadoes" for sale (probably equivalent to a modern pipe bomb in destructiveness), and the 1786 Boston ordinance prohibiting leaving loaded firearms in buildings (as a fire safety measure) that lists not only small arms, but mortars, artillery, and a bunch of other stuff that would qualify as "destructive devices" today. I don't think they included them on the list because they wanted to be complete.I've long believed the same, but based more on intuition and implication than solid authority. Clayton's evidence is welcome and will be cited in the future. (I just need to remember to order a copy of his book...)
If you look at the National Firearms Act hearings before the House Ways & Means Committee, you can see that even proponents of it, such as the A-G and his assistant, admitted that a complete ban on sale or possession of machine guns was beyond the authority of the federal government, because of the Second Amendment. Background checks for weapons seem unobjectionable from a Constitutional standpoint, as long as they have some reasonable relationship to public safety. But that's more a function of the person, than of the weapon.The other counterintuitive thing that I will note here is that the Constitution probably does not prohibit firearms registration so long as that registration is not used as a tool to aid confiscation. Many founding-era communities had firearms registration laws for militia purposes.
In modern times, however, registration lists have been used to support confiscation efforts often enough that this could be convincingly argued as currently prohibited even if originally permitted.
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