01/14/2013 04:42 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2013

Take Insurrection off the Table

I think we would be courting many more problems than solutions if we responded to the Sandy Hook massacre by placing armed guards in all schools or arming teachers. But as bad as those proposals are, using firearms to protect our kids from bad guys isn't nearly as toxic to the American idea as using them to "protect" ourselves from our own government.

More than 236 years after we began forging the United States in the fire of revolution, it's time for Americans to finally take insurrection off the table and re-commit ourselves to our peaceful republican ideals.

We can and should maintain the right to keep and bear arms without holding on to the irrational fear that the only thing standing between us and tyranny is the potential for political violence. Doing that would not only provide a dose of sanity into our debate about guns; it could actually save us from a senseless, potentially suicidal second civil war.

Unfortunately, getting there means taking on the long and deeply held beliefs of many Americans.

Recently, Andrew Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey and senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel, wrote in the Washington Times that the "historical reality of the Second Amendment's protection of the right to keep and bear arms is not that it protects the right to shoot deer. It protects the right to shoot tyrants, and it protects the right to shoot at them effectively, with the same instruments they would use upon us."

As unhinged as that might sound to liberals, Napolitano's views are fairly mainstream in the gun-rights community. And like it or not, it is a view that actually has some basis in the statements and writings of our Founding Fathers.

There is no doubt that the nation's founders justified the American Revolution by asserting the right of the people to rebel against a tyrannical government. They believed that throwing off the rule of a far-off, insensitive and probably crazy king was a cause worth fighting for. They also saw no other way to do it and, under those circumstances, they were probably right.

The situation we face today is nothing like that. As remote as the federal government sometimes seems, it is, in fact, elected by us. The sovereignty of the U.S. derives not from a monarch, but the people themselves. We retain not only the right to elect our leaders, but to petition them for redress of grievances. In the context of all that, the idea of resorting to "Second Amendment remedies" takes on a much more sinister meaning that would make George Washington cringe.

When gun-rights advocates declare a right to take up arms against, they are really saying that killing police officers, American soldiers, private citizens, or democratically elected public officials can be an acceptable form of political expression. Furthermore, they reserve the right to decide when violence is called for and against whom it should be used. The very idea is poisonous to public safety and the rule of law.

The justification for any armed rebellion would, of course, be the "protection of liberty" and American values. James Yeager, the CEO of Tennessee-based Tactical Response, for example, claimed to be defending the U.S. Constitution when he implored people to pack bags and get their weapons loaded in response to potential gun control. But that's dreadfully misguided. If what you fear most is a dystopian future in which your freedom disappears, joining up with armed "reformers" is usually a very bad strategy for preventing it.

At this point, you might ask "What about the American Revolution? That came out alright, didn't it?" It did. But in that case, the armed struggle came about as a result of a political process. The Continental Army and the state militias were the military arms of the civil authorities in charge of the rebellion.

The "patriot" groups of today cannot claim anything like that kind of legitimacy. Instead of being standard-bearers of Jeffersonian ideals, they are posers who play-act the role of revolutionaries without the political infrastructure needed to provide accountability or any sense of legality. They are, essentially, like terrorists-in-waiting who represent nobody but themselves.

None of this is meant to deny that law-abiding citizens have a right to own a shotgun, pistol or hunting rifle for self-defense or sporting purposes. But, in a country like ours, armed insurrection ought not to be among the tools of political action. Even if you think the U.S. Constitution allows for occasional violent uprisings (I don't), it's hard to imagine a situation in which the hazards did not greatly outweigh any potential benefits.

Participation in our institutions -- not insurrection or civil war -- will be what preserves our liberty and our way of life. So-called "remedies" that put power in the hands of warlords, bullies and lunatics will never make the United States a better place. Only when we accept that will our national debate about guns lead to reasonable, reality-based solutions to the real problems of gun violence.