The first six articles in this series are:
The previous articles of this series raised the issue of arming school staff, and raised many of the primary objections of the uninformed, and of professional anti-self defense, anti-liberty activists. Still, how can school officials be convinced to accept concealed handguns in schools? How can risk-averse superintendents and school boards understand the danger we face? Can hard-core Progressives be persuaded to accept reality? This article asks and answers some additional questions. However, I’ll first provide some useful information on the relevant federal law.
In 1990, the Gun Free School Zones Act was written into law as part of the Crime Control Act. Among its provisions was a blanket prohibition on all firearms within 1000 feet of a school. The act relied on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, asserting Congress had the power to enact the law because most firearms probably had, at some point, moved in interstate commerce. Actually, Congress was essentially asserting they could legislate just about anything under the Commerce Clause. The law basically turned huge portions of the nation into gun-free zones, making their perfectly law abiding owners liable for arrest and prosecution merely due to their unwitting proximity to a school. Any gun shop or other store that sold guns that happened to be within 1000 feet of a school zone, was suddenly violating federal law. Any gun owner whose home was within 1000 feet of a school was suddenly a federal felon.
Setting distance limits on gun ownership was a common tactic at the time, with anti-liberty activists envisioning an America so full of gun free zones there would be few lawful places to so much as possess a firearm.
Consider the lunacy of the concept; guns are evil and dangerous within 1000 feet of a school, but they’re fine once one reaches 1001 feet?
In the 1995 Lopez decision, the US Supreme Court struck down the law, ruling the Congress couldn’t write any law they wanted by claiming some vague Commerce Clause entanglement. The Congress–Bill Clinton was then President–reenacted the law with a few minor language changes. It was, in essence, the same law, but without the 1000’ foot provision.
This law has been upheld, for instance, in the Dorsey case (2005) by the 9th Circuit Court, which is infamous as the most liberal in the nation and also, the Circuit most overturned by the Supreme Court. It has not, to date, been heard again by the Supreme Court, though there is reason to believe that under Heller, the law may be in trouble. Here is the relevant text of the law:
Title 18 U.S.C §922(q), The Gun Free School Zones Act of 1995 States:
(A) It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm that has moved in or that otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone. (B) Subparagraph (A) does not apply to the possession of a firearm—
(i) on private property not part of school grounds;
(ii) if the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located or a political subdivision of the State, and the law of the State or political subdivision requires that, before an individual obtains such a license, the law enforcement authorities of the State or political subdivision verify that the individual is qualified under law to receive the license;
(iii) that is— (I) not loaded; and (II) in a locked container, or a locked firearms rack that is on a motor vehicle;
(iv) by an individual for use in a program approved by a school in the school zone;
(v) by an individual in accordance with a contract entered into between a school in the school zone and the individual or an employer of the individual;
(vi) by a law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity; or
(vii) that is unloaded and is possessed by an individual while traversing school premises for the purpose of gaining access to public or private lands open to hunting, if the entry on school premises is authorized by school authorities.
The Federal government generally does not enforce this particular law. In fact, the text of the law notes that the federal government does not intend to occupy this particular field of law, leaving such things to local and state authorities. One might be tempted to therefore ask why the Congress wrote the law in the first place. The most likely answer is Congressmen and Senators feel compelled to write a law about any problem—real or imagined—because that’s what they do: write laws about any problem real or imagined. And of course, they live to increase federal power over the lives of all Americans.
One of the primary problems with federal intervention into what should rightfully be the exclusive territory of the states is federal enforcement of such laws tends to be arbitrary and capricious. One should always be aware of the firearm laws of their state and city, for it is those that are generally the controlling authority. Federal intervention in these matters tends to be dependent on the political leanings of the party in power and the amount of publicity a given incident generates. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the federal government would be more likely to involve itself in such local issues under a Democrat, anti-gun president, as was the case with Barack Obama and his grotesquely politicized Depart of Justice. However, federal prosecution of firearm law declined as much as 42% during the Obama Administration, likely because Obamites did not want to prosecute actual criminals.
The effect is those licensed by a state to carry concealed weapons may do so in school zones in accordance with state law. Those not licensed may carry only unloaded and secured guns on school grounds, though again, federal involvement is unusual, and generally only (rarely) occurs incident to arrests for other crimes, though federal agents may make arrests and federal prosecutors bring charges without warning and at will.
Let’s return to some of the more common questions and objections relating to the issue.
Q: AREN’T GUNS ONLY USED FOR BAD PURPOSES?
Guns are used as often as 2.5 million times around the nation each year to thwart crime, usually without firing a shot. Even the notoriously anti-gun Clinton administration carried out a study, hoping to prove the opposite in support of even more anti-gun legislation. To their surprise and horror, they discovered from one to one and a half million incidents per year of honest citizens using firearms to protect themselves and others against criminals. They attempted, unsuccessfully, to quickly and quietly bury their results.
Q: AREN’T GUNS FAR TOO DANGEROUS TO BE AROUND CHILDREN?
Firearms have been a part of the raising of American children since before the founding of the republic. The number of yearly firearm accidents has been, for decades, dramatically declining. Despite the fact that there are, per capita, far more firearms in American hands than ever before (by most measures, just slightly less than the total population)–Barack Obama was the best firearm salesman in American history–accidents are at their lowest level since 1904, having declined by 94%.
During his presidency, Bill Clinton was fond of deceptively asserting that 11 or more children die each day by gunshot. To reach this figure, the Clinton Administration counted people as old as 20 and more as “children” and included, for example, 19-year-old drug dealers killed in turf shootouts, 20-year-old robbers shot by the police, or citizens defending their lives.
In reality, for actual children (14 years and under), the daily rate is 2.6 (in the entire country). For children ten and under, it is 0.4. In 1995, for example, 200 children (14 and under) died of gunshot wounds from all possible causes. But in that same year, 2,900 died in automobile accidents, 950 drowned, and 1000 died of injuries suffered in fires (Baker 97). Even bicycle accidents killed more than gunshot wounds. In 2007, the number was 65. While the death of any child for any reason is tragic, we don’t keep children out of cars and away from water and bikes.
That so few children are injured by gunshot each year is welcome news, but it doesn’t lessen the potential threat and the damage that will be done when a school attack occurs. The Newtown death toll alone was 1/3 that of the 2007 national death toll. The world has changed. The only rational policy is effective responses to realistic potential threats.
As this article is being updated on October of 2017, Islamist terrorists have murdered more than 100 people in multiple attacks in Paris, France, more still have been killed in Europe when run over by trucks, and more have been killed in America in a variety of terrorist attacks. The Las Vegas attack, which for the moment has the highest recorded single incident death toll (in America), is still under investigation, and the killer’s motives and potential affiliations remain unknown. We live in a new and very dangerous world, a world where terrorists, far from being on the run, are expanding their territory and capabilities, and seek to strike at soft targets. Few are softer than schools.
Again, one must balance the potential threat and the potential benefit of any given solution. If all that matters is raw numbers, how can we justify allowing children near cars, water, anything that might produce a burn, or even bicycles?
Q: IF IT SAVES ONLY ONE LIFE, WE MUST _______ (FILL IN BLANK WITH PREFERRED POLICY)?
This moldy old chestnut is constantly resurrected in support of gun control measures. It would be insane to enact public policy on this basis. If this were so, there would be no automobiles, no airplanes, no power tools, no devices that could possibly cause harm. Even straws in soft drinks would be banned because someone could get poked in an eye. In fact, soft drinks would probably be banned because someone could become obese and die from complications.
Q: ISN’T THE LEGAL LIABILITY FOR GUNS IN SCHOOLS JUST TOO GREAT?
That we live in a ridiculously litigious society is a sad fact of life.
Parents sue schools if their daughters aren’t picked to be cheerleaders or if their sons don’t make the varsity football team. One may use the threat of potential litigation to avoid implementing any program or policy, but the potential liability for the misuse of a firearm is the same on and off school property. Absent a specific state statute, school grounds do not impose any greater legal burden on those carrying a firearm than is found on a public sidewalk, and the requirements for the use of deadly force remain the same whether one is on a playground or the street adjoining it.
Playing high school football is statistically far more dangerous than school shootings, yet we do not abolish football over liability concerns. Anyone carrying a firearm must always take affirmative steps to ensure it is not misused. Such concerns are an eloquent argument not for disarming victims, but for good training, situational awareness and adult responsibility.
Potential liability issues must be primarily addressed by the state legislatures. As some states require schools to be “gun free zones,” it might be necessary–as a first step–for their legislatures to repeal such statutes and authorize the carrying of concealed weapons on school grounds. In Texas, for example, state law allows school boards to authorize the carrying of concealed weapons by those so licensed by adopting a written policy or giving written permission. A new law allows school employees to leave firearms secured in their vehicles on school property. As education and tort law does differ in the various states, liability issues should be dealt with in the same way.
A sort of “Good Samaritan” law could be written absolving teachers and other staff members of liability so long as they were acting lawfully and reasonably in response to a deadly threat–just as we expect police officers to act. Such a law obviously must not shield anyone from the consequences of reckless, malicious or foolish behavior or outright negligence–just as the police are not so shielded.
If the strongest case one can muster against armed teachers is that they are too unstable to bear such responsibility, what are such emotional and mental defectives doing in classrooms when millions of citizens with less education carry concealed weapons off school property without incident every day? It should be remembered that teachers are stringently vetted before being allowed to teach. Fingerprinting, credential verification, background checks, references, criminal history checks, are all an essential part of the hiring process for any teacher. Virtually every teacher in America is vetted at least as thoroughly as any citizen who receives a concealed carry license, and through the same processes and agencies. Mistakes are sometimes made, but because those who hire teachers must themselves be hired from the human race, and because they must choose teachers from the same inherently flawed pool of applicants, this is rather like observing that oranges are orange and that all oranges are thereby fatally flawed.
Surely, some Progressive parents will complain about the horrific dangers of teachers carrying guns. However, these people unknowingly walk among concealed carry licensees every day in stores, restaurants, theaters and a great many other public places. They seem to have survived unscathed thus far. The threat is never the law-abiding and responsible who take the time and money to obtain a concealed carry license. Such people, everywhere, are uncommonly law-abiding.
It may be worthwhile to consider the potential liability (to say nothing of the horrendously negative public relations fallout) inherent in doing nothing in the face of known domestic and Islamist terrorist threats when the worst-case scenario comes to pass. True, the odds are in the favor of most students, but there is no reason the odds might not disfavor any given school or child. They will disfavor someone.
The MSM has also done a fine job of hiding the fact that from one to 2.5 million Americans successfully defend themselves and others with firearms each year, most without firing a shot. If a school’s only response amounts to “run and hide,” defending a gun free school zone policy after the fact will suddenly become a very uncomfortable proposition, at Virginia Tech and elsewhere.
The final installment of this series provides a look at a worst-case scenario: an attack on an elementary school. I hope to see you here next Tuesday.
Baker, James and Wayne LaPierre: Shooting Straight: Telling the Truth About Guns in America. Washington D.C., Regnery: 2002.