Memo to the NRA: Individual gun ownership is not a 2nd Amendment right

Guest Opinion: Armed gunmen won't solve school violence, but neither will a national focus on gun control.
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A gun display in a store.

Guest Opinion: Armed gunmen won't solve school violence, but neither will a national focus on gun control.

After a weekend of backlash, National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre reiterated his belief Sunday, on NBC's Meet the Press, that school shootings would be deterred by putting "armed police officers in every school."

Sadly, just the next day, America saw the ambush shootings of two volunteer firefighters who were responding to a home ablaze in Rochester, NY. 

Both LaPierre’s comments, and the context of Monday’s shooting of firefighters, underscore this reality: The NRA doesn’t understand the disease of gun violence in America, nor do they fully reflect the framers’ intentions with the Second Amendment.

Here’s the other side of the coin: Gun control advocates seldom fully appreciate the central nature of guns in America for many citizens, nor do they fully realize their focus on the Second Amendment is probably misplaced. A more appropriate focus, for gun control advocates in Washington state, would be our state Constitution.

I grew up in central Oregon in the 70s and 80s. If we didn’t have a deer hanging in our garage in the fall, it meant a winter of grilled cheese and Campbell’s soup.

We were dirt poor. Guns provided an opportunity, through hunting, for my family to feed itself during long spells of unemployment.

So, I’ve grown up with a healthy respect for guns. When my father died, we sold or gave away 32 firearms. I kept one .22 rifle for myself.

Likewise, when it comes to policy on guns, I have a healthy respect for the 2nd amendment.

When I left Central Oregon, I worked on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, and completed a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins in international security studies.

Through observing politics at the national level, and studying from some of the brightest minds in the world, I learned some important lessons.

One lesson was that if only one side is armed, “unilateral disarmament” leads to tyranny.

This is the same argument the NRA and some gun advocates are making in the wake of the Newtown massacre: gun-free zones invite bad guys with guns. They say the answer is to provide armed officers in every school.

Arming both sides makes sense. The threat of attack, coupled with a response by both sides — the good guys and bad guys — ensures that both sides know the consequences of any possible violence. 

In international security, this is known as “mutually assured destruction.”

Here’s an area where President Reagan was so great.  He recognized that the logic of a world of “mutually assured destruction” did not mean we were secure.  It meant the end of the world was only one mentally deranged person away.

The logic of “mutually assured destruction” is the NRA’s antidote to gun violence. 

When it comes to our kids, we must do better.

It turns out, when it comes to America, Reagan thought we should do better, too.  In fact, he proposed the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons, culminating in the middle ground of the 1987 INF Treaty between the US and USSR.

He understood that, while “unilateral disarmament” was not an option, “mutually assured destruction” wasn’t an option either.

We could live in a world without nuclear weapons.

It turns out we can live in a world without gun violence in our schools, without members of Congress getting shot, and without shopping malls becoming shooting galleries.

We can.  We simply must choose to.

The 2nd amendment says:  “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.”

Each state has a militia today.  They are called the National Guard.

There is no authority under the constitution for individuals to have guns. If the founding fathers wanted us to all have guns — particularly guns in schools — don’t you think they’d be smart enough to say that? 

That’s not what they said.

Grammarians would note that the amendment has a subject and a predicate. If you pull out the clauses, the basic right reads “A well regulated militia… shall not be infringed.”

Up until President Bush, no president in history had the audacity to re-write the Constitution through interpretation. Every other president had defined the Second Amendment to apply to the “people” as the people’s rights, in the same way that the Tenth Amendment applies to the “States” or to the “people.”

The Second Amendment doesn’t apply to individuals. To believe this you would have to concede that the Founding Fathers, who were clear and careful throughout the document, erred.

You’d also have to believe that Washington state's founding fathers were mistaken. They believed the rights afforded by the Second Amendment were to militias, too. 

For this reason, they made clear in the Washington Constitution that “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired.”

It turns out 38 states have guaranteed individual rights to bear arms in their state Constitutions, in part, I would guess, because the federal Constitution doesn’t.

What does this all mean?

It means “mutually assured destruction” does not have to be the paradigm we send our children to in their schools. 

But to solve the problems of “unilateral disarmament,” we must shift the paradigm to greater control of the most dangerous weapons. 

This means changing our Constitution — here in the state first, rather than the federal government.

So, yell at the TV when you hear the NRA offer “meaningful contributions.” Cry when you see the faces of those babies shot down in Connecticut.

But organize here at home — and start with amending our state Constitution — so we can have a reasonable policy conversation about guns.


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