In the days that followed the killing, my browser kept taking me back to a Wikipedia link about the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. The law, still intact after many challenges and rewrites, reads: “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.”
Guns of all sorts are banned anywhere near schools. If the government’s laws had worked, this killer would have realized that his plan was unachievable. After all, the world’s most powerful government had banned the whole idea of guns at school.
But the law did not work, at least not as intended. On the contrary. The killer could be pretty sure going into this that he would be the only one at the school with a gun.
Think of this: Schools in particular have been singled out as a place without the ability to defend against violence. The law has been challenged and revised and debated ever since, but the bottom line stands. Have school shootings declined? Most major shootings now occur in gun-free zones, and nearly twice as many since the act passed than in the 20 years prior. (See the full list.)
People have wrongly tended to reduce the debate to more gun ownership or more gun control. It’s clear where the Obama administration wants to take this: toward more centralized control and fewer gun rights. The right responds by pointing to the example of Israel where teachers are heavily armed. That’s the choice the mainstream gives us.
Actually, the framing of the whole debate is wrong. It is not about whether teachers should be armed or whether guns should be banned for everyone but state-employed cops. The real issue is whether any institution in society is going to be in charge of its own security, and not be forced to obey the government’s plan.
Schools face a problem not different in kind from any other issue of security affecting banks, convenience stores, jewelry stores, theaters, homes, or churches. All these institutions are constantly threatened with violence from random sources. They must all make judgments about the risk of violence and how best to deal with it. There is no one aggregate solution that applies in every case. Each institution needs to determine security for itself.
Just days after Sandy Hook, a shooter attempted to gun down people at the Mayan Palace Theatre in San Antonio, Texas. An off-duty deputy whipped out her own gun and blasted him before the killer could reenact the rampage at the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. This is probably the first you have heard about this precisely because the tragedy was averted. The institution will learn from the event and respond in a way that is rational and not injurious of human rights and liberties.