CBH Editorial: Rhetoric not helping on gun issues

January 22, 2020 11:47 PM

The right to bear arms has been in the news a great deal this last week.

A number of gun control bills are coming before the Washington State Legislature – 13, by one count. And, with a Democratic majority in both chambers this session, some of the bills have a chance of passing. These bills include outright bans on certain rifles and magazines as well as making it harder to obtain or maintain a concealed-carry permit.

And, last weekend a rally at the Capitol steps in Olympia drew a good deal of attention to the controversy over who should be allowed to own guns and of what kind. A few days later, a huge rally in Virginia against an even more restrictive set of laws on gun ownership brought the issue again to the national stage.

One example of the proposals in Washington is Senate Bill 6294, which would require concealed-carry permit holders to complete eight hours of training sponsored by a college or university or a certified firearm training school. The training would include safe handling and storage of firearms, state laws regarding the use of deadly force, conflict resolution, suicide prevention and live-fire shooting exercises. This is a significant change from present law, which requires only that the carrier be over 21 and pass a criminal background check.

On the surface, fundamental law is fairly clear. The text of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is well known: “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.”

Article 1, Section 24 of the Washington State Constitution is even less ambiguous: “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”

In both documents, the ownership of weapons is classed alongside free speech, freedom of religion and the right to a trial by jury. In other words, as a civil right.

This classification does not sit well in some quarters. With one high-profile shooting after another in national news, a large segment of the population has grown to see the right to bear arms as, well, less a right than the others.

The issue has highlighted the urban-rural divide that defines so much of our state and national politics. People who live in urban areas, at close quarters with thousands of strangers, are understandably leery of the idea that those strangers may be armed. With police just a phone call away, they reason, why would anyone need to have their own means of self-defense? And so they use their political clout to pass laws that will also apply in rural areas where law enforcement is spread thin and armed crime is rarer. A look at the map shows this discrepancy: Initiative 1639, which placed broad restrictions on gun ownership, passed in only 14 of Washington’s 39 counties, slightly over a third.

To make matters worse, media in those urban areas have taken to tarring legitimate gun-rights advocates with insinuations of white supremacy, militia violence and sedition. The Seattle Times made a point of focusing its coverage almost exclusively on Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, whose political opponents recently accused him of “domestic terrorism.”

In Virginia, the Associated Press headline said that advocates were “gear(ing) up for a show of force.” The Philadelphia Inquirer went further, calling the demonstration “an outbreak of terrorism on American soil.” Gov. Ralph Northam actually declared a state of emergency at the prospect of his fellow citizens demonstrating for their rights. All must have been terribly disappointed when the rally turned out to be racially diverse and visibly lacking in swastikas, and ended not only without violence but with participants picking up their own trash.

Alas, the rhetoric from gun-rights advocates leaves a lot to be desired as well. Promoting apocalyptic scenarios in which a despotic government disarms and enslaves us all are both excessive and inflammatory. A background check or a gun safe requirement may be a hassle, but it’s hardly the first step on the road to the gulag.

On the other hand, a civil right is a civil right, whether it’s popular with our urban neighbors or not. Legislators should keep this in mind as the session proceeds.

And, it would be better for both sides to take a step back and address the issues without panic-stricken hyperbole.

Our local legislators can be contacted at:

Sen. Judy Warnick, 360-786-7624, P.O. Box 40413, Olympia, WA 98501-0413

Rep. Tom Dent, 360-786-7932, P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600

Rep. Alex Ybarra, 360-786-7808, P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600