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Local View: Assault-style weapons a threat to 'we the people'

Seriously? An AR-15 in a children's toy and book store? Or was it an AK-47?

No, no one was carrying a large weapon inside the store. Rather, one was being worn, proudly displayed across a T-shirt. Beneath the gun was "I support the Second Amendment."

So do I. But I don't support bringing AR-15 rifles, or even their likenesses, into children's toy and book stores. What was this person thinking?

Our best friends from out of town had come to celebrate their wedding anniversary along with ours. We had our children together, watched them grow up together, and now we were at the children's toy and book store in Canal Park shopping for our grandchildren.

I'm glad those grandchildren were not with us to see that shirt. What would the wearer have said to those children ranging in age from 9 to 1?

I support the Second Amendment, too, but I interpret the Second Amendment through the lens of the Declaration of Independence, among other founding documents. The first words of the Declaration — "We the people" — insist on the wellbeing of the collective people as the foundation of our democracy. Even the exalted inalienable individual rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are secondary to "We the people." The community has priority over the exercise of individual rights.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul writes about the church as a body: "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (the "you" is plural, not singular). In Christianity, the individual is intimately connected to and finds fulfilment in "the body," in community. I cite this not because I believe the Bible should dictate the interpretation of our founding documents but because it informs our most fundamental understanding of what it means to be human and finding our place in civil society.

I submit that the Second Amendment and, indeed, all our founding documents ought to be interpreted through the lens of the collective wellbeing of the people, "We the people," and that such an interpretive lens might help us in our difficult and often-fiery debates.

Seriously, would the wearer of the T-shirt have walked into that children's toy and book store carrying an actual AR-15? Might as well have.

If our 2-year-old grandson had been there, he would have pointed at the gun on the shirt and asked, "What is that?" His 9-year-old brother, who just went to his first day of school, would have said, with discernable fear in his voice, "That's that kind of gun they kill kids with in schools." The 2-year-old would have looked and asked, "Why?"

What could have been said in response?

In the world as I know it, especially embracing Christianity and the moral teachings of the Bible, there is no place for individuals to sport assault-style weapons. I've heard various defenses of these weapons, appealing to the Second Amendment. One woman said, "They're fun!" I would posit that her "fun" is a threat to the wellbeing of "We the people."

And can we get past the unhelpful phrase, "Guns don't kill people; people do"? People with assault weapons kill many more people than they might with another type of weapon. I consider assault rifles to be weapons of mass destruction.

It seems to me we need an interpretive lens to provide a broader context for this conversation. But, regardless of what interpretive lens you use, there is no place for an AR-15 in a children's toy and book store.


David Tryggestad of Duluth is a retired pastor.