GUEST COMMENTARY / GUN CONTROL

‘Arms’ are weapons; we have a right to them

By Kevin Schmadeka

After a few years of well-deserved obscurity, Washington CeaseFire is back on the scene after finding a few legislators willing to sponsor their so-called “Assault Weapon” bill again. And in the classically reprehensible CeaseFire tradition of pasting the names of murder victims on their bills and fundraising projects, they’re calling it the “Aaron Sullivan” bill. This hearkens back to the days of their “Columbine Memorial” fundraising events, among many others.

Ceasefire and its legislative supporters are making this issue about “weapons of war” and how citizens have no real right to own them. Some pro-gun folks are replying that combat-style semi-automatic guns really aren’t combat weapons. We’ve had this argument a thousand times, and there’s no need to rehash it here. If you want to know what a constitutionally protected “arm” is, all you have to do is pick up the dictionaries from when the state Constitution was ratified and look it up.

From Black’s Law Dictionary, 1891: “This term, as it is used in the constitution, relative to the right of citizens to bear arms, refers to the arms of a militiaman or soldier, and the word is used in its military sense. The arms of the infantry soldier are the musket and bayonet; of cavalry and dragoons, the sabre, holster pistols, and carbine.”

From the Century Dictionary, 1890: “‘Repeating arms,’ arms that can be discharged a number of times without being reloaded. ‘Small arms,’ all weapons not requiring carriages, as opposed to artillery, including rifles, muskets, bayonets, pistols, revolvers, sabers, and swords; also sporting weapons.”

From Webster’s Dictionary, 1884: “Weapons of offense, or armor for defense and protection of the body.”

There’s not a lot to say about weapons of duck hunting in those definitions, is there? “Arms” are exactly what any halfway-conscious English-fluent person can tell you, weapons. Of war. We could rehash the argument over civilian ownership of combat arms, but this much is settled: When the nation’s and our state’s founders protected “arms” for the people, they were talking about the same weapons carried by your friendly National Guardsman.

Ralph Fascitelli, board president of Washington CeaseFire, isn’t after the relatively harmless-looking sporting weapons, at least not this time. But what does he say about people who use them? “Anybody that uses a semi-automatic to hunt is an animal assassin. You know, that’s someone who would take an M-80 and throw it in a pond of water to kill fish,” said Fascitelli in a recent KING 5 interview. Here we get to the nub of it, what really drives him and his vice president, Jon Scholes, who while working for King County Council member Julia Patterson was famously quoted as telling a constituent, “I don’t spend my time talking to people like you.” What seems to drive them is prejudice and hatred of people who aren’t like them. Overall, not a good basis for public policy decisions.

So the question remains of how we protect potential victims like Aaron Sullivan. Peace is what happens when the bad guys fear being shot. An 18-year-old man is an adult, responsible for his own safety, and in this state he should have his right to be armed for protection respected. But despite the obvious fact they are at risk, they don’t have that right. Lowering the eligible age for a concealed pistol license to 18 is something our Legislature could address to save the next Aaron, not to mention the college students who frequently are victimized, because gun control supported by Washington CeaseFire insured he had no opportunity to save himself.

And how do we protect police from those who would target them? That’s a whole different can of worms and there isn’t space to fully address it here. In short (most cases, anyhow), officer safety comes from being on the good side of the populace. It’s a tough case to make that officer safety is the motive behind the “assault weapon” bill, because if school shootings have taught us anything (aside from the incredibly lethal nature of “gun free zones”), it is that when the unthinkable happens, it’s not unthinkable anymore. This is a very precarious time for police, with a very real danger of these attacks becoming the next widespread shooting trend. Responding with crackdowns that pit police against citizens is absolutely the wrong direction to be looking.

Come to think of it, though, a new shooting trend might be just what Fascitelli is hoping for, because he could get a lot of mileage out of that scenario. Lord knows he did his part to help school shootings along.

This may come as a shock to some, but shootings, murders and crime were all happening during the times the federal and state constitutions were ratified, and their framers still chose to protect our right to possess combat arms. I think they knew exactly what they were doing.



Kevin Schmadeka of Marysville is director of the Freedom Restoration Project (frpwa.com), a volunteer second-amendment lobbying group