For example: a cannon, certain types of muskets etc...

Were there laws for whether women or freed slaves could not own specific weapons?

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    I'm not sure that slaves were considered citizens at the time, so would you rather have us focus on individual groups of people, or on citizens as a whole? – Reliable Source Dec 21 '12 at 1:20
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    I recently got into this discussion and a friend of mine noted that some cannon at the time were privately owned, though I have not looked into it deeper. Not sure about other weapons, though considering we were still a frontier/colony/country its doubtful there were laws regarding who owned what. – MichaelF Dec 21 '12 at 11:54
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    I'd certainly believe cannons were privately owned. Honestly, it seems like a modern assult rifle or a modern colt 45 would be a more dangerous weapon than a canon. The point being the model of owning anything in 1789 is not the same as in 2013 – timpone Dec 22 '12 at 22:13
  • @timpone - what do you mean by "model"? ALso, unrelated, you can own a tank in USA (sadly, without actual weapons working). – DVK Dec 23 '12 at 23:16
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    I don't know about federal law under the Articles of Confederation, but in the colonies before 1776, a person typically could not legally own any weapons if that person was a slave or an Indian. These laws were closely modeled on the English laws that forbid Catholics from owning arms, and that were motivated by fears that Catholics would stockpile arms and rise up. England also had restrictions on handguns and crossbows, whichcould be concealed, and were often used by highwaymen. Guns a full yard long were OK. Arms were associated with compulsory militia service, which was for men 16-60. – user2848 Sep 17 '16 at 19:27

Short answer - There were no federal legal prohibitions against weapon ownership in 1789.

Long answer. During that year the "United States" had at least 14 governments. For the first two months of the year, the territory was governed by the Articles of Confederation. I haven't reviewed all of the legal precedents under the AoC, but I'm willing to bet my collection of Stack Exchange Hats that AoC had no restrictions on gun ownership. Philosophically, that was an issue that would have been reserved for the states. For the last ten months of the year, the United States was governed by the Constitution. A quick review of the legislation passed that term, indicates that they didn't touch weapons laws. (they hadn't even passed the 2nd amendment yet). Furthermore since the clear intent of the drafters of the constitution was to avoid specifying negative rights, the absence of any mention of weapons, then there were no restrictions on weapon ownership.

But I said 14 governments, and I've only touched two. The other 12 were the state governments (Rhode Island didn't ratify the constitution till later). State laws may have restricted weapon ownership.

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  • Add the word "Federal" (or something of that sense) to your first sentence, and this may be good enough for an upvote. It is only very late that you mention state laws, but without look at those, this can only really be half the answer. – T.E.D. Dec 21 '12 at 14:55
  • One other state ratified late, so the number may be 13 – Mark C. Wallace Dec 21 '12 at 14:56

Second Amendent: "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."

In early post colonial US there was very little "Federal" law. It was mostly local (town or county) or State law. There also was no real federal "Standing Army" until the Civil War. The only military weaponry of that day were canons, and by association, large stores of Black Powder. Many local jurisdictions prohibited civilians from possessing, in their homes, canons or large stores of black powder. In Marblehead MA there was a town based "Powder House' outside the Village where the local militia had to store it's black powder, and then transport it to the fort that guarded the entrance to the harbor. The framers of of Constitution and the Bill of Rights (3 were from Marblehead MA) were also the same local leaders who enacted these local prohibitions against civilians possessing this military weaponry. It is hard to imagine Eldridge Geary or General John Glover approving of every Tom, Dick and Harry possessing the weapons of mass killing that an assault rifle with a 30 round magazine represents.

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    Your last sentence doesn't jibe with your first; if you want your state to have a militia with a chance of defeating an invader, they need weapons roughly comparable to (or better than) the invader will have. In a modern war, this will be an assault rifle with large magazines. Anybody who had a musket would also have powder and shot for at least a little while - some towns had laws specifying a minimum amount! Note that the law regarding cannons might not have been to keep civilians from having them so much as keeping the town safe from accidents, especially fire. – Clockwork-Muse Sep 18 '16 at 7:12
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    The restrictions on storing large amounts of explosives in towns was not a restriction on owning the explosives, but rather a safety precaution because they didn't want an accidental explosion of a storage facility (which happened with some frequency, explosives at the time were far less stable than they are today) from destroying half the town and causing large loss of life and property. – jwenting Sep 19 '16 at 7:14
  • muskets, did they already use cartridges with bullet + power in 1789? If the bullets are separated from powder, then a 'large store of black powder' is necessary also for any infantry unit, not only for cannons. But nobody would allow his neighbor to store a 'large store of black powder' as it might 'go boom' anytime. So, using this as an argument against gun ownership is completely bogus. – Luiz Mar 2 '18 at 19:22

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