“We have to do something”, “There ought to be a law” and “It’s complicated”; these are clichés that by their actions people are applying to the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As far as the first one goes, we have far too many instances of applying the wrong solution to a problem and making it worse instead of better. As far as the second, you don’t hear that cliché much anymore; probably for the same reason. “It’s complicated” – now there is a statement that is certainly true in this case, but if you listen to enough ideas (there are plenty of them out there), and think logically about how to apply them while still respecting the 2nd Amendment and our civil liberties, the path becomes clear and the complicated becomes manageable.
The first time I ever shot a rifle, I was about ten or eleven years old. I wasn’t a Boy Scout, at least not literally. This was at church camp! No thought about killing anything crossed my mind. It was all about target practice. It was a lot of fun, just getting better at it. I’ve shot more bullets as ten and eleven year old than I have as an adult.
So why not ban assault weapons? Most of you know the answer to this, so I won’t spend much time on it. The bottom line is, you ask anyone who advocates banning assault weapons to define an assault weapon, and the answer will generally be that it’s a gun that looks mean and scary. The A in AR-15 doesn’t even stand for assault. It stands for Armalite, the original designer of the AR-15. Basically, the AR-15, now manufactured by Colt, is a rifle that is lightweight because it uses lighter alloys. The legal version of the Semi-Automatic AR-15 shoots one bullet for each pull of the trigger. The main reason it has become the most popular rifle is because it is light weight and accurate. Banning the AR-15 would be banning a weapon that most people would find effective, and is pretty much like banning the modern rifle.
Let’s talk first about the 2nd Amendment. One talk show host pointed out the irony that many of his liberal friends who consider Donald Trump an autocrat who could easily become a tyrant, yet they want a gun ban. That is precisely when someone should NOT want a gun ban. The primary reason for the 2nd Amendment is a check on government. If you only look at the second half of the 2nd Amendment, and take it literally, you would think that there is no reasonable regulation on weapons. However, the first part of the 2nd Amendment makes it clear that the purpose behind the Amendment is a check on tyrannical government. “Well-Regulated” implies that the Amendment is not meant for violent anarchists that want to destroy all government. It implies responsibility in gun ownership, and the ability to replace a bad government with a good government. However, you can’t infringe on the right of gun ownership to the point where a tyrannical government can preserve itself at the expense of life and liberty of its opponents. We have a scary government right now. We should be very concerned about preserving this freedom because of that fact.
We live in scary times as well. That is the reason we have gun violence; the guns aren’t the reason. If you take away the means of self-protection, you leave a vulnerable population defenseless. This is not the time for emotional and illogical regulations on gun ownership. “Those calling for gun control have little interest in taking real steps to promote public safety and well-being”, said Dean Rieck, Executive Director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, “Instead, they use gun control as a political hammer to … organizations like ours. It’s a disingenuous tactic to do fundraising, but they are doing nothing at all to address real-world problems.”
One “real-world problem” is that “Gun Free Zones” simply invite killers to attack. Killers tend to avoid locations where it is made known that armed personnel are present. Are there any reasonable steps that can be created to protect our children in school? There has been a lot of talk centered on big, expensive government programs that involve police officers, security guards and physical barriers similar to public airports. We may not have any choice but to go this route if we don’t change some of the fundamental issues in our society, but there are a lot of problems with it. For one, it definitely does not seem like a good environment to educate children about civil liberty and a free society. However, Florida has already announced a $500 Million program. We will see this approach tested. Maybe we’ll get used to it.
The second problem is worse: debt. Our state governments are generally in precarious financial position. Our public schools are in worse position. The Federal government is in debt more than at any time in history. This has to be funded at the local level, which means additional property taxes or a drastic cut back in educational opportunities and extracurricular activities. What we are faced with in our very large public school systems is just becoming day care prison for children that provides very weak educational opportunities.
There is another way if a school district and state are willing to embrace self-reliance and individual responsibility. A second talk show host educated us on the fact that First Responder, a term first used by Jimmy Carter, is a misnomer. The real First Responders are those who are already on the scene. Studies have shown that it takes a minimum of four minutes for law enforcement to arrive on the scene of a crime. One of the students of Stoneman Douglas said that his coach, who died in the shooting, would have confronted the gunman had he been able to carry his firearm to school. It has been shown that harm is greatly mitigated when permit holders are allowed to carry concealed firearms in schools.
Many states have been very successful taking this approach. Argyle School Independent School District in Texas decided in 2014 to allow highly trained members of their teachers and staff to carry guns on campus to prevent mass shootings. Sheriff Paul Cairney described the process on MSNBC after the Stoneman shootings. “At Argyle, everyone is a volunteer; no one is forced to carry a weapon. The volunteer has to be approved by the principle. Next, the sheriff conducts a one on one interview with the applicant to determine their mental ability and motivation to carry out the task. Finally, the volunteer gets a psychological evaluation, the same one given to sheriff’s deputies. After passing those checks, the volunteer moves on to 3-5 days of very intense formal weapons training.” The Tom Woods podcast episode 1101 interviews novelist and former firearms instructor Larry Correia, who does a great job explaining the success of similar programs in his home state of Utah.
Ohio also has regulations which allow a school district to authorize teachers to carry weapons. Again, from Dean Reick, “the fact is, gun owners ARE doing something. We’ve been doing something for years.” One program featured on their website, “FASTER Saves Lives” is the obvious example. FASTER provides educators with intensive violence response and trauma first aid training. Classes are provided at no cost to schools, funded through private donations. To date, more than 1,300 teachers and staff from 225 districts across 12 states have received this training, including educators in 76 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Up to 400 additional educators are set to go through training in 2018.” At one point it looked like Governor Kasich was leaning in this direction. It might be a ruse. A politician who thinks they are the only adult in the room is a pretty scary person.
Maybe Washington can do a few things to placate the anti-gun proponents, but it is not promising. Trump asked a logical question. Why are handguns restricted to 21-year-olds but an 18-year-old can buy a rifle like the one that was used in Parkland? Unfortunately, I think he probably has the logic backwards. I believe Trump is implying that any weapon should be restricted for purchase only to 21-year-olds. Someone should ask him right back, why should someone’s 18-year-old daughter, trained in firearm use, who has a restraining order against an abusive ex-boyfriend, not be able to defend herself with a handgun? If Washington passes a law that makes room for younger people to use and train with a weapon, even if they don’t own it, with ability of the parent or guardian to allow them to borrow their weapon, and with shooting ranges allowing weapons to be rented, it may be OK. I’m not sure you should hold your breath. It would be better to get on the phone and call your representatives.
As much as possible, we should leave Washington and the state capitol out of it. This is a problem that should be dealt with on a local basis. If the security of the school where your kids go is not satisfactory, you must find another school or gather parents together who will insist that the current one changes its policies. Find a smaller school where teachers know the students better. Lobby to break up the big school districts. Stoneman Douglas High School has over 3,100 students, a massive school where it would be easy for a disturbed youth to fall through the cracks and go off the deep end. Private schools and home schools where there the teachers and administrators know their students should be much more available. These mass shootings never seem to happen in a private school, and they obviously don’t happen in an on-line school. We need to lobby for a change in the tax laws so that parents can deduct the money spent on private schooling from their local taxes, thereby encouraging the growth and development of small private schools. Private schools are not restricted by separation of church and state. Religious instruction seems to be sorely needed in our country.
This conversation needs to go beyond guns to answer the question of what we are about as a nation and how we lost our way. The same questions need to be asked and answered about our educational system. Another talk show host mentioned the fact that all the first day news coverage of the Parkland shooting spoke about how Nikolas Jacob Cruz was probably the victim of bullying, and grew up in a very troubled young life. Then, that description was dropped because it didn’t fit the media narrative. Why can’t we make changes in curriculum that would encourage and develop understanding and compassion? There is a terrible shortage of trained social workers in this country. Classes in Social Work could pave the way for a job and career, and have the added benefit of teaching the students the scientific causes and cures of destructive behavior. How about other classes that encourage self-respect and actualization in students? Why do we as a nation believe in self-defense? The actor Richard Dreyfus is deeply disturbed by the elimination of civics curriculum in schools. He has formed a non-profit organization called The Dreyfuss Initiative to push for change, and he makes a tremendous case for why this should be done. (See his Ted Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACYXYaLp6KE ).
Fixing this problem is complicated. There is no easy solution, no one size fits all solution, but there are several good ones. You probably won’t find many of them in Washington. The federal government is one institution that has not earned the right to interfere in this issue. That is also true for our state government, but, unfortunately, state laws can interfere with doing the right thing at the local level so some laws may have to be changed. The educational system needs to be transformed. An industrial age bureaucratic educational system does not work today. At the same time, some curriculum, such as civics, were abandoned and need to be restored. Let’s roll up our sleeves and start the change from the ground up.
John Stewart, Member At-Large
Franklin County Libertarian Executive Committee