Tracy Winder: Gun-free-zone laws and school safety

Editors note: The following letter consists of several letters to the editor about gun-free zones submitted by Tracy Winder. Due to the consistent subject matter and a lack of space restrictions online, the letters appear here together

To the editor:

The United States Congress enacted the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 (GFSZA), which was amended later to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling regarding constitutionality. The U.S. Code defines “school zone” as any public, parochial, or private school which provides elementary or secondary education (K-12). Other federally-mandated ‘gun-free zones’ were created later.

States and local jurisdictions quickly followed suit with their own ‘gun-free zones’, including Colorado. Since then, nearly all multiple shootings in the USA have taken place in public or private ‘gun-free zones’. The common feature of mass shootings in Europe is that they all take place in gun-free zones.

Since 1990, I count 14 mass shootings in the USA that have taken place on ‘gun-free zone’ school properties, including the latest in California.

Prior to passage of these ‘gun-free zone’ laws here at home, we in the firearms community warned repeatedly that this legislation would backfire, that these new laws would make schools and public areas more vulnerable, not less. Despite our reasoned protestations to legislators, newspapers and the public, lawmakers proudly passed these laws anyway.

Back in late July, I wrote a letter to the editor referencing a book by John R. Lott, Jr., entitled More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws. Lott’s scrupulous research reveals that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings take place where Concealed Carry Permit holders are barred. The evidence from recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado, Oregon, and Connecticut add more credibility to Lott’s findings.

The idea of ‘gun-free zones’ was never a workable idea, since a plan for funds necessary to guarantee compliance was never provided at any governmental level. Unless each affected location is operated much like an international airport, at all times when citizens are present, and with all the expense and inconvenience that goes with it, compliance will always be completely voluntary. Few governments or school districts have this type of funding available and never will.

Even with all the mandatory, costly protection measures in place at major airports, laws now allow commercial pilots to carry guns (voluntarily and anonymously), and armed U.S. Air Marshals travel on random flights (anonymously). Why? Because lawmakers had to concede that even the best security measures can be evaded, and there simply is no substitute for an immediate, armed defense, particularly when an attacker cannot determine where or from whom the defense might come. Sadly, legislators did not extend this thought process beyond the airline industry.

Apparently, the Moffat County School District held two community meetings in December to discuss safety in local schools. Unfortunately, most in the community were never aware of the meetings until afterwards. As the Daily Press will verify, notice of these meetings never appeared in the printed version of the Press; notice appeared only online. Many of us would have attended had we known of the events.

The lethal impact of governmental ‘gun-free zone’ laws cannot be overstated; the statistics confirm it. Worse, since there is usually no comparable alternative to venues such as public schools or hospitals, citizens are forced to visit these zones to obtain benefits paid for by their own tax dollars.

Here’s a brief summation of current laws concerning guns and schools, as I understand them: Although federal law prohibits guns in schools, it does provide for states to allow licensed (or permitted) individuals to possess firearms in school zones. However, except for law enforcement personnel, Colorado Statutes now disallow carrying of firearms anyplace prohibited by federal law and on K-12 school property. As stated by MCSD school resource officer Mark Brown, school security guards may not be armed.

Even if it were affordable, an armed police officer at school entrances during the day falls short of the goal. Two armed police officers inside the school during the Columbine tragedy distracted the killers and saved lives, but two easily-identifiable officers responsible for a school with hundreds of students simply aren’t enough.

Furthermore, the school is still an unsecured ‘gun-free zone’ when school isn’t in session, and outside the building. Who protects teachers and kids during after-school activities, like basketball, cheerleading, and play practice? Who protects patrons during community concerts, school plays, sporting events, public assemblies, political caucuses, and community club meetings? Who is on the field for gym classes and football practice?

Attacks do not always take place inside a building, nor are guns always involved. On the day of the Newtown, CT shooting, 22 students and one adult were viciously stabbed by a man outside a primary school in Chongping, China.

Undoubtedly there are measures that could enhance any direct-defense school safety protocols. For example, a basic wireless alarm system seems essential; insufficient warning systems have played a key role in many school shootings.

Fears about persons with psychological disorders and use of psychotropic drugs are certainly legitimate, and candid studies should commence. Aberrant behavior in K-12 children and/or prescription drug treatments may prove to be a link to violent crime later.

Regardless, unbalanced individuals will seek ways to create lethal mayhem. Psychopaths are crazy, not stupid. They will avoid places where citizens are legally armed, and find easier targets.

During the coming months, we are going to face a myriad of gun-control measures proposed or enacted in response to the recent multiple shootings, coming from both Washington D.C. and our own state legislature. None of these will likely address the problem head-on, and all will be costly in terms of funding, theft of personal liberties, and future loss of life.

Pay attention to those advocating more gun-control; these are the same people, institutions, and news sources who told us that the solution was to make our schools (and other locations) into ‘gun-free zones’. They got it egregiously wrong 23 years ago, and they’ll get it wrong again rather than rectify their initial mistake.

There has been little in the way of news coverage about the recent mall shooting in Portland, Oregon. Perhaps it is because the circumstances don’t bolster the arguments for more gun-control. The shooter’s weapon was stolen; the shooter’s high-capacity magazine caused his gun to jam (a common event which has actually saved lives in 3 multiple-murders, including Columbine); and had the executioner’s gun not jammed which led to the killer committing suicide, an ordinary citizen with a legal concealed carry permit was armed, ready, and in a position to shoot the attacker. Gun-control advocates in the media would prefer you didn’t learn how well legal concealed carry can prevent and stop crime.

Fortunately for the Oregon man who carried his ordinarily-legal firearm into a private ‘gun-free zone’ (just like the Aurora theater), he did not have to use his weapon. He would have been crucified by the media for his heroism, and possibly punished through the legal system for defending innocent human life.

In this case, as in so many others, mandating registration of all guns, creating more ‘gun-free zones’, closing gun-show loopholes, longer waiting periods for guns sales, more stringent background checks, banning private sales, more restricted concealed carry laws, banning assault weapons/ high-capacity magazines – none of these measures would have affected the probability or the outcome of this event. These are not solutions to a school or public safety problem; they are simply blatant use of public fear to promote more unnecessary gun regulation.

And lest we forget, our Department of Justice found that the former federal ban on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons between 1994 and 2004 had no statistical impact on gun violence, including the number or lethality of mass shootings.

Germany – a country that has some of the strictest gun-control laws in the world, including psychological screening and a one-year’s wait to buy a gun – has been the site of 3 of the worst multiple-victim, K-12 public school shootings in the world, all in the last decade, and all in ‘gun-free zones’.

Change is overdue; but enacting more unsuccessful gun regulations on top of existing, faulty legislation will avail us nothing but more heartache.

Among all the self-serving, agenda-driven politicians in Washington (and Colorado) – those who are loathe to acknowledge that our laws are the underlying cause of school massacres - one man stands alone: Back in July of 2011, Ron Paul, a U.S. House Representative from Texas and a pediatrician by profession, introduced legislation to repeal the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act. Predictably, however, his bill had no cosponsors and languished in committee.

Dangerous, governmental ‘gun-free zone’ mandates must be repealed. Creating laws that leave schools with no adequate options to protect themselves affordably is simply unconscionable, and there is blood on the hands of our legislators.

Individual school districts and local governmental jurisdictions should have control of security measures that they can afford and will work best in their area.

If the federal government refuses to budge on repealing the GFSZA, there are clear signs that states and local governments might choose to disregard federal law. In fact, some already have.

Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Oregon already allow people to carry legal concealed weapons into public schools. In Ohio, it is legal to bring a concealed weapon onto school grounds if the district has granted permission.

A small Texas school district has already decided to let faculty members carry firearms.

A day before the CT shooting, Michigan’s legislature approved a bill allowing teachers with additional firearms training to carry concealed weapons ‘gun-free zones’, such as schools. Michigan’s Governor, however, afraid of public outcry over the recent shootings, vetoed the bill.

Oklahoma’s State Representative Mark McCullough says he will introduce legislation next session to allow principals and teachers with proper firearms training to carry guns on school property.

Utah laws have allowed teachers to carry legal concealed weapons in schools for the past twelve years. Additionally, Utah Concealed Carry Permit records are closed to the public so that no one knows how many teachers are armed, and protects addresses of unlisted gun owners like police officers.

Meanwhile, Colorado law prevents us from addressing the core problem.

In my estimation, concealed carry of firearms by school personnel and legally armed citizens are the only reasonable responses to school safety that meet the following essential criteria: Preservation of personal liberties; affordability; immediate and effective defense should an incident occur; and deterrence and prevention of potential incidents.

If we want to take back control of our schools, we’re going to have to demand it from our Colorado legislature. I fear it will be a battle like we’ve never seen before in this part of the country, so prepare yourself if you choose to be involved.

Make no mistake; given the current balance of political power in our state, the trend will be for more intrusive and futile state gun-control laws, rather than repeal of the laws that have left us nearly helpless.

As for federal laws, our advocates may be few there, also. When I phoned their offices in late December, both Senators Bennet and Udall were ‘undecided’ on how they would vote on Senator Diane Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposed gun-control bill in the Senate.

So while anti-gun zealots in the U.S. Congress tinker around with passing more gun laws, schools still won’t have any more immediate defense against murderers than they did before.

Legislators at every level of government need to remember two fundamental guidelines: (1) To the greatest extent possible, the guaranteed liberties of ordinary citizens must be preserved, and only when no other solution is possible should any law intrude upon the rights of those who have committed no offense; and (2) Legislation should directly impact the problem at hand.

Instead, we get invasive laws that sound good to the uninformed public, but in fact make no measurable impact on the problem at hand. The outcome can be deadly.

Summary of facts:

• Since 1990, nearly all multiple shootings in America have been in ‘gun-free zones’, and 14 have been school shootings;

• All mass shootings in Europe have taken place in gun-free zones;

• Despite meticulous security, laws allow commercial pilots to carry guns;

• Two armed officers inside Columbine were helpful, but not enough to stop two shooters;

• Attacks also take place outside schools, and guns are not always involved;

• The assault weapons ban of 1994 made no statistical difference in mass shootings (or violent crime);

• In the past decade, three of the deadliest K-12 school shootings took place in Germany, despite some of the world’s strictest gun-control laws;

• Hawaii, New Hampshire, Oregon, Ohio, Utah, and one Texas school district already allow teachers and staff (and some citizens) to carry authorized concealed weapons into public schools; Michigan and Oklahoma may follow suit;

• Utah Concealed Carry Permit records are closed to the public so no one knows who may be armed in schools.

Incidentally, the comments “Nobody needs an assault weapon!” or “What are the chances any of us would really need an assault weapon anyway?” reveal either a lazy intellect or a mental disorder. We’re talking about civilian pistols and rifles, not rocket launchers.

In a situation of the gravest extreme, to profess clairvoyance as to what type of firearm will be required or how many bullets will be enough or how fast they will be needed goes beyond stupidity.

No person can predict when or where or to what degree disaster could strike, nor what it might take to stay alive. History teaches us of deadly widespread epidemics, solar flares affecting all things electronic, multiple earthquakes, and giant tsunamis. We have yet to see a military invasion of this country or an organized terror attack on our aging power grid, but to deny the possibility of such events is lunacy.

If soothsaying or gambling on the odds is the game we’re playing when it comes to personal safety, then why bother seeking methods to make our schools secure when, after all, the chances that any of us or our kids will be involved in a mass shooting are less than crashing in an airplane?

If you wish to gamble, go buy a Lotto ticket; then contact your Colorado and U.S. Senators and Representatives and tell them that we won’t go along as sheep to the slaughter under new or existing incompetent legislation.

Insist on repeal of all governmental ‘gun-free zone’ laws so we can enact measures that make sense, are statistically likely to succeed, and that we can afford.

More gun-control never was the right answer; further carnage will follow. And each time a free nation punishes itself in response to egregious, criminal acts of violence - by revoking the liberties of law-abiding citizens with costly, inappropriate legislation - we pay lasting tribute to the murderers. What an inspiration.

Tracy Winder

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