THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACES IN AMERICA: GUN-FREE ZONES
I pulled out of my driveway and the digital clock on the dashboard read 2:45 a.m. I flipped the radio to my favorite talk channel and a “breaking news” alert injected a sense of horror into the early morning airwaves: “Ten people have been killed in a mass shooting at a Colorado premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Oh no, escaped my lips; more of a punctuated breath than words. “At around 12:30 a.m. a gunman entered a theater in Aurora…”
My youngest son and his friends had attended the premiere of the Dark Knight movie at our local theater in Grand Junction. I didn’t panic for my son and his guests, but my heart fell into a dark and mournful contemplation for the families in Aurora. When I got home I texted my oldest son who lives in Denver, just a few miles north and west of Aurora. He answered my text the next day and told me that the entire town was eerily quiet. People went about their business, but spoke little. He was all right. He had thought about going to the premiere the prior evening, but couldn’t find anyone to accompany him, so he stayed home.
Not ten, but twelve people were killed by a twisted young man in that cinema. As loved ones and friends process their losses and face life without the precious company of their children, parents, sweethearts, and companions, the nation debates an impossibility: How could this have been stopped? This is an impossibility because it is what it is, and the time to stop it passed before the victims even knew what evil was killing them. The concrete debate is: How can other incidents like this be prevented in the future?
Cinemark, the parent company of the theater in Aurora where 12 were killed and 58 were wounded–some still in critical condition at this writing–has a policy which prohibits firearms on its premises. The policy prevents even properly permitted concealed-carry gun owners to bring their weapons into the cinemas. The movie theater where 70 people were shot is a gun-free zone. This policy is not unique. Private entities, such as theaters, restaurants, and hospitals began instituting such rules with the passage of the Gun-Free School Zones Act in the early 1990s. The initial act was found unconstitutional, but after some revisions it became law with the signature of Bill Clinton. This act does not mandate that all schools become “gun-free zones” but it does exempt them from possible consequences for the infringement of Second Amendment rights when they require that a private individual relinquish their personal firearms before coming onto school property. Hospitals, public parks, commercial areas, and uncounted private businesses have followed suit in a disastrous attempt to protect the lives of law-abiding people by disarming law-abiding people.
Since the Gun-Free Schools Act was signed by Clinton in 1995, the rate and intensity of mass killings–which are defined as murders where four or more individuals are killed in a single attack–has skyrocketed. School shootings, especially those on a mass scale, were extremely rare prior to the passage of the GFSZA. They are now an almost annual occurrence. Some have speculated that the zero-tolerance aspects of the gun-free schools policy, and its overwrought implementation by administrators who lack basic firearms knowledge and training, have caused students and staff alike to feel insecure and paranoid in the school setting. The last part is true, students and teachers do feel exposed in schools, not because they fear being caught with a gun at school, but because they fear that someone will come on campus with ill intentions, and they have no way to protect themselves.
Campus lock-downs have become commonplace since the 1990s. Lock-downs are usually initiated by an announcement by a secretary in the main office of the school, and the subsequent locking of doors and turning off of lights by teachers, who then must quietly hide with their students inside of the darkened classrooms until the “all clear” is given. The shelter-in-place procedure is similar, with the teachers locking the students in the classroom while they quietly go about their studies. The lock-down and shelter-in-place procedures are designed, not to drive away or neutralize the bad guys, but to minimize the casualties that the public school culture has come to accept as inevitable when evil individuals walk onto a campus. Gun-free school zones = unarmed teachers and students. Lock downs = quiet, sitting ducks.
It is unfortunate that the rare exception to school shootings is the intervention by an armed adult. In 1998 an assistant principal at Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi prevented what potentially would have become mass carnage when he retrieved his .45 caliber handgun from his car and detained a young man who had earlier killed his mother, and then shot his girlfriend and another young lady as he walked into the school. The assistant principal grabbed the young man, took the rifle he had used in the killings, and subdued him by pressing the .45 pistol against his neck until police arrived. The display of force by one man with a weapon prevented the bloodshed of many innocent people.
The GFSZA should be repealed and principals, teachers, custodians and other staff should be encouraged to become adept marksmen and carry firearms while at school. School shootings would plummet in number, and the time-consuming lock-down and shelter-in-place drills would no longer be necessary.
The mass killing in Aurora offers up the same sad lesson. This may have been prevented if one responsible gun-owner had been present at that cinema in the early morning of July 20, 2012. The promising scenario for the future is that, if gun-free zones are eliminated–since it is only the law-abiding citizen who obeys them in any case–a similar mass killing will likely not occur at all. If an evil person, intent on taking human life, knows that when he steps into a theater, a school, a restaurant, or the grounds of a public park, that there are probably several armed individuals present, he will rethink his master-plan of mass murder. Murderers who take the lives of innocent, unarmed citizens are cowards. Gun-free zones give cowards the latitude they need to act because they know there will be no one to fire back.
Placards proclaiming “Gun-Free Zone” should be replaced with something like the Internet favorite that announces, “Guns are welcome on premises. Keep all weapons holstered unless an emergency arises. In such case, judicious marksmanship is appreciated.”
The Second Amendment was designed for the individual, not an army or the commander of a militia. The individual has the right to his life, liberty, and property. The Second Amendment protects the right of the individual to defend his life, liberty and property. Gun-free zones are unconstitutional, and they expose individuals to the tyranny of one evil man who has a gun, knife, club, pointy stick, brass knuckles, or anything that can be used in an offensive attack.
Two and a half million crimes are prevented each year in the United States by people who possess firearms. Most of these incidents occur in private homes. Public and private entities need to trust the wisdom of the American gun-owner and eliminate the most dangerous places in their towns and cities; the gun-free zones.
By Marjorie Haun 7/22/12