In December, an armed gunman forced his way into an elementary school in a New England town much like our own. There, he shot and killed twenty children, six staff members, and himself. Since then we’ve seen about thirty gun deaths in the United States every day—the equivalent of another Newtown massacre, again and again, day after day, with no end in sight.
This tragedy has prompted a national debate on the issues of mental health reform, classroom security, and gun safety. I was glad to see this discussion also taking place on a local level this month, initiated by Brooks Lyman’s letter to The Groton Line entitled, “Consider the Second Amendment: It Guarantees That the Citizens May Be Armed.” I actually found myself agreeing with much of Mr. Lyman’s thesis, as well as I was able to follow it:
- Gun ownership in the United States is traditionally recognized as one of our God-given or natural rights;
- Our Founding Fathers encouraged citizens to join well-regulated militia groups for community defense; and
- One potential task the Founders foresaw for such a militia was to deter or help to overthrow an overreaching Federal government, if needed.
All of these things are historically accurate statements. And while most lawful gun owners today arm themselves for the practical purposes of self-defense, property protection, hunting, or recreational marksmanship, Mr. Lyman is technically correct in proclaiming his God-given, Constitutionally protected right to safely and responsibly stockpile weapons of his choosing in case of government tyranny, zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, or whatever other catastrophe he expects might happen any day now.
Where Mr. Lyman lost me was in the subsequent tangle of faulty logic and unsupported conclusions. Setting aside the rant about not being able to sue the police when criminals drive their cars into Groton, or the revelation that most mass shooters are liberals off their Ritalin, Mr. Lyman seemed to believe he could strike a bargain to not have his Second Amendment rights limited in any way as long as he pledged not to challenge the First Amendment rights of anyone else. This is particularly silly, as the Supreme Court has consistently upheld limited restrictions to both First and Second Amendment rights in the interest of public safety.
Mr. Lyman’s letter notably mocked the effectiveness of gun-free school zones. This could have been the start of a legitimate policy debate, if only Mr. Lyman understood that these zones aren’t really gun-free in an absolute sense. They are gun-free with the exceptions you might reasonably expect. Gun-free school zones can be patrolled by armed security guards, law enforcement officers, or anyone else who is specifically authorized by the school to carry a gun. But if you don’t have authorization, there are real consequences to bringing a gun to school, and real deterrence.
Mr. Lyman seems to believe that shopping malls and movie theaters are similarly mandated gun-free zones, instead of private businesses that decide for themselves what customers are or are not allowed to bring inside. Movie theaters are gun-free zones in the same way that they are outside snack-free zones, and are often kept secure by police or security guards who really do get to carry guns (and possibly snacks).
There are four gun safety measures before Congress right now. One is an incredibly popular provision to eliminate loopholes in our universal background check system, so it keeps deadly weapons away from dangerous individuals as originally intended. The second is to provide armed guards to schools that want them, similar to a proposal by NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre. The third would make gun trafficking a Federal crime, allowing law enforcement to crack down on straw purchasers with clean records who can currently buy unlimited guns on behalf of gang members and other shady individuals. The fourth is a ban on assault weapons and oversized magazines for which no private citizen would ever have reasonable need. Even folks who are actively opposed to one or two of these measures should be able to get behind the rest.
I hope we can all have a respectful and productive discussion on these issues, dispel some common misconceptions, and find constructive ways to make our schools and public spaces safer for everyone.
Greg R. Fishbone