As per the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution one has to wonder if there are any restrictions with regard to the type (or destructiveness) of arm you shall bear.

If someone could afford the bill and be in safety/inspection/regulation compliance and seek to bear the arm of nuclear weapons one has to wonder if this would be their constitutional right.

Do people have a legal right to own nuclear weapons? Why or why not and has anyone ever taken such concerns to a court for a legal judgement on the matter?

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  • You'd technically be permitted to own pretty much any type of destructive ordnance with a class 4 weapons permit. Of course you wouldn't ever be able to actually get or use a nuke in the first place considering that almost all radioactive material required to produce nuclear warheads is incredibly controlled. You'd have to refine your own radioactive material and produce your own weapons grade plutonium. All in all I could see someone spending more than a billion in just getting the material together to make one, but another couple hundred thousand in permits with decades of paperwork. But I g
    – Jam
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 20:01
  • @Jam There are no permits to own nuclear weapons in the United States. Under the Atomic Energy Act, only the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and their contractors can produce or possess nuclear weapons. You're trying to apply ATF rules, but those aren't the main laws relating to nukes.
    – cpast
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 20:36
  • Apparently there is no such thing as a class 4 weapons permit outside of fiction en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Firearms_License Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 21:06
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    See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_scrutiny for an explanation of the circumstances under which courts will permit fundamental rights, such as the right to bear arms, to be abridged. In this instance, their is unquestionably a "compelling governmental interest" in preventing persons from owning nukes and the court would likely uphold the ban.
    – David Reed
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 21:49

3 Answers 3


Almost certainly, there is no such right.

It's illegal under 18 USC 831 to possess "nuclear material" without specific authorization. 18 USC 832 forbids the possession of a "radiological weapon". If there is intent to use the device to cause death, serious bodily injury, or damage to property or the environment, that's also a violation of 18 USC 2332i.

I don't think these laws have been explicitly tested against the Second Amendment, but related cases suggest they would hold up (if the challenge wasn't simply dismissed as frivolous).

The Second Amendment doesn't grant a blanket right to own weapons. Federal law, 18 USC 922 (o) makes it unlawful to own a "machinegun" (as defined in the statute), and in the case of Hollis v. Lynch, the Fifth Circuit held that this law was constitutional, because, as they said, the Second Amendment only protects weapons that are in "common use [...] for lawful purposes like self-defense." This case doesn't seem to have been appealed further, but the reasoning cited by the Fifth Circuit comes from the Supreme Court's opinion in D.C. v. Heller.

If machineguns aren't in "common use", and therefore not protected, surely the same would apply to nuclear weapons.

  • I wonder what would happen if somebody wanted a machine gun because the mafia in his hometown were notorious for carrying them. But either way an nuke is just ridiculous.
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 3:44
  • @Joshua: That person would just be out of luck. The machinegun law doesn't have any exceptions for such cases. Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 4:08
  • Elredge: The Court ruling explicitly depends on them not being commonly used. If this flips ...
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 13:37
  • I guess this means that at such time when "arms" are not in common use (they aren't in as common of use as they were in the 1700s) then the 2nd Amendment is moot.
    – mark b
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 18:00
  • "Federal law, 18 USC 922 (o) makes it unlawful to own a "machinegun"". No it doesn't. It makes it illegal for a citizen without a FFL to own a machine gun manufactured after 1987. If a citizen has a FFL, the FFL is allowed to own as many machine guns as they please, with no date restrictions.
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 19:09

Each and every time the Supreme Court has addressed the second amendment, it has upheld that it is constitutionally permissible to have prohibitions on dangerous and unusual weapons. Nuclear weapons meet this standard.

For a prohibition to be permissible, the weapon must be both dangerous and unusual.

Any weapon used for offense or defense has to be dangerous. It'd be pretty stupid to try and defend oneself with something totally incapable of inflicting pain or injury. The historical bans referred to by SCOTUS cases narrow the concept of "dangerous" to mean:

  1. the weapon has a high likelihood of injuring the person wielding the instrument AND/OR

  2. the weapon, by its entire nature, indiscriminately injures or kills, and there is no manner to properly target the weapon at a specific individual or small group

Since the impact of a nuclear weapon is characterized by its rather substantial blast radius and ranges of immediate death and radiation poisoning, it is clearly an indiscriminate weapon. As such, it meets the first half of the standard of a permissible prohibition.

Nuclear weapons are only possessed by approximately 10% of nations. Those nations which possess these arms place them in the control of very small, specialized units. Nuclear weapons have only been utilized twice in the history of warfare. This qualifies them as unusual.

  • Those are some pretty interesting statics there you talk about. Any supporting links for further reading and such on those things which you mention. Good answer though but would be better with some source references supporting some of these things you mention. All that makes sense and even seems sensible to me though. Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 2:57
  • "Both dangerous and unusual": surely a fully automatic rifle is not dangerous by that definition, as it can be switched down to 3-shot or 1-shot mode to target an individual, and a burst on FA would seem to be suitable for targeting a small group. However I realise we are getting off the topic of nukes here. Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 14:35
  • @PaulJohnson almost a year later, but you in fact can own a fully automatic rifle
    – Manchineel
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 7:51
  • @Manchineel You can, provided you live in a state that permits it. According to the supreme court in Heller there is no constitutional right to do so. Some states have a blanket ban. Others allow it provided you have police permission, which probably translates to a blanket ban for anyone not personally acquainted with their local sheriff. Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 8:58
  • @paulJohnson "According to the supreme court in Heller there is no constitutional right to do so" the supreme court said no such thing. In DC. V. Heller, the supreme court established the test in which it is permissible to establish firearm ownership restrictions. Specifically in the context of owning and carrying a concealed pistol. Heller did not establish any such rulings about machine guns.
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 19:17

By no means is this meant to be a full answer, but it also cannot be a comment, so consider this a supplementary.

The United States Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for enforcing federal firearms regulations, including what's been defined in law as a "destructive device".

Back in the first days when e-filing was introduced, the ATF's electronic "Form 1" submission (the application to create a firearm, or excplosive), did indeed have the option to submit a form 1 for a "NUCLEAR WEAPONS". This option no longer exists today, at least not on any e-forms that are available to the public. enter image description here

While this does not speak to an individual right (Form 1 is exclusively for firearms manufacturers or importers, however this does not have to be a corporation, and take the form of an individual), it does mean that there exists private entities who are able to legally manufacture and own nuclear weapons.

After all, the government doesn't actually make their own nukes from the bottom up. This would require the millitary to own a large portion of the industry in the United States. Instead, they enlist the assistance of many private companies to aid in the manufacturing of these devices, so they do have to be made, and at least temporarily, owned by a private entity.

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