April 24, 2011

The Deadly Political Correctness of Gun-Free School Zones: Part II

The first installment of this series (available here) outlined a dangerous and very real issue facing American schools today: The likelihood of attacks by active shooters, whether disaffected or deranged citizens, or Islamic terrorists, foreign or domestic. This article will deal primarily with ways with which the problem may be successfully dealt, and with commonly raised objections to the only truly effective way to protect our children if a worst-case scenario occurs.


There is one simple update in school policy that can change American schools, as has been the case in Israel, from soft to hard--or at least harder--targets: allow teachers and other school staff to carry concealed handguns. This policy can be implemented at no cost to schools and mechanisms, both legal and practical, are already in place. Only two American states completely prohibit the carrying of concealed handguns, though it is likely, circa April of 2011, that this will change in Wisconsin. The rest allow it subject to records checks, testing and licensing. However, several states allow any law abiding citizen who is not otherwise disqualified by mental illness or past criminal status--Wyoming is the most recent--to carry a concealed handgun with no state testing or licensing. These laws have been a uniform success in that every state that has passed a concealed carry law has seen reductions in violent crime, mass shootings, and no corresponding increase in shooting incidents. The kinds of wild west shootouts anti-gun activists predicted would break out at the slightest provocation have simply failed to materialize.

Those licensed to carry concealed weapons have been, unsurprisingly, uncommonly law abiding, and only a tiny percentage (commonly much less than a single percent) have had their licenses suspended, most for technical violations of the law such as unintentionally carrying a handgun into a prohibited area. Concealed carry has been so universally successful and beneficial that no repeal legislation has been seriously considered, let alone passed. Circa Spring, 2011, concealed carry is allowed on school grounds only in Utah and Colorado, but 13 additional states are debating the issue, including Texas, where a bill that would allow concealed carry on state college campuses is being debated.


Gun free zones? Yes, but only for those who obey the law, and are, as a consequence, no threat. The fact that schools are “gun free zones” did not stop the Columbine killers or any other maniac intent on harming school children, nor will it stop those intent on harm in the future. The laws ensure only that schools are easy targets. In truth, they are victim disarmament zones, special preserves where shooters can be assured that they will have ample time to kill before any police response can be organized. A gun-free zone sign in front of a school provides only a false sense of security to parents, but is comforting indeed to killers who may be certain that their victims will be unarmed and in a very poor position to resist them.

Very few people are comfortable with the idea of prominently posting a sign in front of their home advertising the fact that they are unarmed. Yet some are delighted to see essentially the same sign in front of their children’s school. Signs and laws confer no protection. They suggest and provide for only the possibility of punishment after a violation of the law. The people who threaten our children don’t play by the rules of the American criminal justice system, and boldly standing ready to prosecute school murderers who commonly kill themselves during their attacks is, at best, an exercise in futility. Only the affirmative acts of those prepared to effectively defend themselves and others offer real protection.


One significant reason that violent crime has uniformly declined in right to carry states is that even though only a small fraction of the population carries a concealed weapon, the likelihood is high that some honest citizen will be carrying a handgun virtually anywhere at any time. Knowing this, criminals can never know who will be armed and must assume that everyone might be. Therefore though only a small portion of the honest population carry concealed weapons, they provide a protective, deterrent effect for the general public far out of proportion to their numbers.

Those already licensed for concealed carry provide a ready pool for schools. Many people assume that the police are all expert shots. Not so. Many police officers are required to qualify with their firearms only once a year. The courses of fire are commonly not demanding and passing scores generous. Many officers fire their weapons only on those occasions (and clean them less often).

Shooting skills can be learned by virtually anyone, and a great many citizens exceed the police in shooting skill. This is not to denigrate the police in any way--they do a difficult job well--but putting on a police uniform does not endow the wearer with magical shooting powers beyond the reach of civilians. Most teachers are women, and firearms teachers know that women often make the best students, usually lacking the preconceptions and ingrained bad habits present in many men.

Publicizing that teachers are allowed to carry, suggesting that they are carrying, but taking pains to ensure that no one knows who or how many in any given school, will confer upon all teachers, students and schools the benefit of making every school a harder target. No one should be required to carry a firearm against their will. Even if one school in a district has no one on campus carrying a concealed weapon, as long as the public doesn’t know that but reasonably believes that some are, the school retains the deterrent effect of appearing to be a harder target.

If you were planning a school attack and knew that the Smallville School District allowed concealed carry on school property, even encouraged it, but the Pleasantville School district next door did not, in which school district would you be more likely to attack? Terrorists are deterred only when they believe that their mission might be thwarted, which tends to cause them to shift to a softer target. At the moment, virtually every American elementary and secondary school is a soft target.


As I previously noted, only recently have architects begun designing schools for greater security. However, the very nature of schools mitigates against effective security. Particularly in secondary schools, teachers, students and others are constantly coming and going, and a large number of exterior access doors are mandated by fire codes. Metal detectors do not protect against anyone who intends to kill, and security guards are often the first killed, as was the 2005 case at Red Lake High School in North Dakota. A 16 year-old student began his attack by killing the school’s only security guard. The shooter killed a teacher and five students and wounded 14 others before briefly trading gunfire with the police and killing himself in one of the relatively few school attacks in which the police played at least some part in stopping the shooting.

Strong locks and substantial classroom doors are certainly a good idea, as are video systems, comprehensive intercoms and other security measures, but they are expensive and as such, are often set aside for other priorities.
Good security design of school facilities can slow determined killers, but cannot stop them. By all means, employ these methods, but that’s not the point. The more capable and determined the shooter(s) the more likely it is that such passive methods will be of little or no value. The question is what works when these methods have failed, when a killer is present and ready to kill?


Anyone carrying a firearm must carry it on their person, invisible, safe and secure from theft. Handguns can’t be locked in cabinets, left in purses or desk drawers; they are not secure and will be useless if their owner is confronted by a deadly threat while thus unarmed. A handgun in a lockbox in a teacher’s classroom will be less than useless to the teacher confronted by a shooter in the hallways of their school. The most effective known weapons locked in an armory are useless to people under attack anywhere else, particularly if they don’t have the key.

It is difficult or impossible to detect a concealed handgun if it has been carefully chosen and concealed. Carrying a firearm entails the absolute responsibility to keep it from unauthorized or dangerous persons. This is all a part of competent training, and requires changes in mindset, behavior and wardrobe.

Carrying a concealed weapon, on or off school grounds, is clearly not for everyone, but is not unreasonably dangerous. By this I mean that when we leave our homes every morning, we assume a great many reasonable risks. Driving represents one of the most real and serious risks we face every day, yet we tend to think nothing of it. We trust average citizens each and every day with weapons far more destructive and deadly than handguns: automobiles. Driving is the most complex, demanding task that we do every day, far more difficult than shooting, yet we require less training, background checks and testing for drivers than that required for concealed carry and think nothing of it. Uniformed police officers who carry their weapons openly are far more likely to be the victim of an attempt to take their weapon than anyone discreetly carrying a concealed handgun in any setting.

Fortunately, there is an experience model. In all of the years of teachers carrying concealed handguns in Utah, there has never been an instance of a student obtaining and using a firearm taken from a teacher. While the theft of a handgun is always a possibility, all of life is a matter of balancing risks, of balancing the good against the bad. The potentially life saving effects of concealed carry during a worst case scenario clearly outweigh, by an enormous margin, the potential negative effects of a lost or stolen weapon.


It’s true that police officers love to catch really bad guys, but the police have no duty to protect any individual citizen. On June 27, 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Castle Rock v. Gonzales. In this case, the estranged husband of Gonzales defied a restraining order and kidnapped their three daughters, ages 7-10. Over many hours, the police were repeatedly called, even begged to act. Mrs. Gonzales even went to the police station in person and plead for their help, but they did nothing. Shortly thereafter, Gonzales’ husband committed suicide by cop by firing on the police station. His three daughters were found dead in his vehicle. He murdered them before attacking the police station.

The court affirmed decades of lower court precedence in holding that the police have a duty only to deter and investigate crime for the public at large but not for any individual; the police could not be held liable even though they did nothing to assist Gonzales despite her repeated, obviously valid and pitiful pleas for their help.

This might seem outrageous, but it is rational and necessary. Most people would be amazed, even shocked, to learn how few officers are patrolling their community at any time of the night or day. It is impossible for the police to guarantee protection to any individual, and if they could be successfully sued for failing to provide such protection, what city could possibly afford a police force? Police agencies are always understaffed. As a consequence, they staff their shifts with the most officers when most are required: evenings in general and Friday and Saturday nights in particular. Police agencies virtually always have the fewest officers working during weekday shifts when school is in session.

Indeed, the police love to catch bad guys in the act, and would love nothing more than to stop school shooters, but the police are primarily reactive rather than proactive. There aren’t many of them, and they’re not well prepared to deal--in terms of weapons, training or procedures--with actual terrorism which employs military methods, weapons, tactics and objectives. It is true that more police agencies are changing their response models and training regarding school shootings, but we are all responsible for our own--and our families’--personal safety. No matter how well trained and prepared responding police officers might be, the immutable issues that matter are time and distance. Unless officers are present--within easy handgun range of the shooters--when an attack begins, many children and teachers will die before they can arrive.


Some schools have armed police officers on their campuses during school hours, more have part time officers, but most have none. School liaison officers are expensive; they are of little use to a day to day patrol force, yet their salary must come, in part or completely, out of a police budget. Even if a school has an assigned liaison officer, the odds that the officer will be on campus when an attack occurs, or will be in the part of the building necessary to take immediate and effective action are small. Such officers duties do not consist only of walking continuously around a school. For most, that’s a very small part of their daily routine. Many schools have the population of small towns, and modern schools are like mazes to those who don’t work in them daily. Those most likely to know who doesn’t belong on a campus and what is happening on a moment by moment basis are those who work there--the teachers.

Time is no longer on the side of the good guys. When an active shooter or shooters enter a school, if they are not engaged and stopped immediately, the only factor determining the eventual death toll will be their good will or lack of marksmanship. Many schools do not have intercom systems, so a teacher seeing an armed attacker in a hallway may have no way--other than their own cell phone, which may or may not work inside the school--to notify the office, warn other teachers, or to call the police.


Worse? Worse than what? Worse than active shooters intent on killing as many students and teachers as quickly as possible? Worse than terrorists feverishly wiring explosive charges? When an armed attack on a school occurs, “worse” has arrived. The only issue thereafter is how deadly things will become, and if the good guys have no effective response, “deadly” will be measured by the amount of time available to the killers to run up the final body count.

Unlike feel good gestures, arming teachers is one of the simplest and most effective measures that can have a positive effect if the worst case scenario occurs--ask the Israelis. If it never occurs, the school environment remains unaffected, except for the positive benefits of deterrence.

Teachers who hold concealed carry permits currently live a schizophrenic legal/professional existence. Standing on the sidewalk in front of a school, they are trusted upstanding citizens who have willingly, and at considerable expense in time and money, submitted to rigorous vetting by the state. Step onto school property and they instantly become potentially crazed killers, liable for firing and lengthy jail sentences. The determining factor? Geography.

Does the value of a teacher’s or student’s life change depending upon where he or she stands relative to a school property boundary? Should children be under the protection of their parents who hold concealed carry licenses be deprived of that protection merely because they step on school property, crossing an invisible line? Does a gun-free school zone sign confer magical protective properties on the real estate behind it, forcing the most deranged or homicidally determined to obey that law even as they doggedly prepare for mass murder? Unless this kind of magic exists, the only thing worse than an armed attack is failing to prepare for it, and therefore, having no effective response when it occurs.


Most teachers wear identification cards and look a lot more like teachers than killers. Police officers are trained not to fire their weapons without being absolutely sure of their targets. Every police officer knows that they are, morally and legally, absolutely responsible for every round they fire and that they will frequently be required to walk into ambiguous situations. They train for these scenarios. Officers knowing that teachers might be armed makes friendly fire incidents less, rather than more, likely.

It is true that police officers sometimes make mistakes and injure or kill innocents. But again, the issue is one of balance. Should the mere possibility of mistakes prevent us from providing the best, most proven method of protecting the lives of our children at school?


Indeed, schools must be safe and secure environments for our children. Historically, this has been the case, but never has there been a clear and present--and often demonstrated--danger like that we now face. Never has it been more vital that those responsible for the safety of children entrusted to them at school deal with that responsibility rationally and effectively. Locks, doors, video, passive security measures are all nice to have, but the question that each and every parent must ask is: “what will you do if the worst case scenario comes to pass? How will you protect my child?” Unless the answer is to effectively deter attacks, and to meet deadly force with deadly force, your children are “protected” only by rhetoric, only by small, metal signs. School shooters have not, to date, been impressed, deterred, or stopped by rhetoric or by signage.

The true gun free school zone message is that we are not responsible for our own safety and security; someone else will protect us. It represents magical thinking: A thing is so because we say it is, because we sincerely wish it to be. Pity the poor Virginia Tech official who, months before the shooting, after the defeat of a law that would have allowed students and faculty to carry firearms on campus, smugly proclaimed that everyone could, as a result, feel safe. No doubt he and others felt safe for a time, but feelings and reality are often quite different, an irony that one can only hope will haunt him, and will certainly haunt the surviving relatives of the victims, for the rest of their lives.

We are all, by law and common sense, responsible for our personal security. Refusing to take affirmative measures to protect ourselves and our charges is an abrogation of responsibility and teaches weakness, helplessness and victimhood. We have established gun free school zone policies to lull ourselves into the belief that such “zones” are safe, to “send a message” about what we believe to be important, to advertise our belief in peace and safety and niceness. Unfortunately, reality dictates that such signs will be obeyed only by the law abiding and that they empower, even encourage those who would harm others. There are truly evil people abroad in the world, and any one of us may have the misfortunate to meet one of them at any time of the day or night. Do we really want to teach students to ignore reality and rely only on feel good/feel safe measures in this, or any other situation?

A recent focus in schools across the country is the prevention of bullying. Programs are being developed and large amounts of money being spent. There is little doubt that some children subjected to bullying, particularly where school authorities do nothing, commit suicide or otherwise suffer. But if we are willing to devote so much energy and so many resources to this issue--and it is surely reasonable to take prudent steps to prevent bullying and to effectively and immediately punish it when and where it occurs--why are so many educators and others unwilling to address an even greater and more potentially deadly danger?


As regular readers know, I am a teacher of high school English. I’ve been fortunate to have some 15 years of experience in this wonderful and vital endeavor and have also had the pleasure of teaching college. These experiences have given me considerable insight into the culture of education.

Many educators, many of those in positions of authority in education, are liberals. As such, their views of those who own guns tend to run the gamut from disapproval to believing them to be barely sentient lunatics ready to kill the innocent at any moment. Some really have an irrational, visceral fear and loathing of firearms, as though inanimate objects have magical, evil powers capable of infecting those around them. It should hardly be surprising that such people would reflexively oppose what I’m suggesting.

However, the times are changing. Only a few years ago, before the Heller and McDonald decisions by the Supreme Court finally established the Second Amendment as a fundamental American right enforceable on state and local governments, the kinds of laws now being considered and increasingly passed would have been thought impossible. Anti-gun forces still exist, but are more and more marginalized. The field of education is one of their last power bases.

In the final installment of this series, which I’ll post next Monday, I’ll lay out a very realistic scenario that may help to persuade otherwise reluctant parents and school board members. It is my hope that America won’t have to suffer through a Beslan-like attack--or many such attacks--in an elementary school before our schools implement the only effective means of stopping those who would harm our children. Never has the danger been greater, yet never has the possibility for effective change been greater.

Posted by MikeM at April 24, 2011 03:08 PM

Bit O/T but couldn't see how else to get your attention and husband wants to go to dinner but did you see this today?

Police beating of Las Vegas man caught on tape (LVRJ)

CY won't allow tiny url

Posted by: Jypsea Rose at April 24, 2011 06:03 PM

Dear Jypsea Rose:

Thank you! I did see the story and will be reporting on it shortly. I reported on the initial incident as part of the Erik Scott series not long ago and suggested exactly what has happened.

Thanks again!

Posted by: mikemc at April 24, 2011 07:49 PM

Pardon me but I'm a trifle confused on the timeline. Weren't the "Gun-Free Zones" put in place after Columbine?

Posted by: Jerry at April 25, 2011 10:29 AM

First "Gun Free School Zone" law passed in 1990, later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. A modified version was passed in 1995 and is still in effect today.

The Columbine shootings occurred in 1999.

Just as an observation: when the next school shooting occurs among the "gun free" students, who will be called to stop the killing? Men with guns. Wouldn't it be best to have guns already at the school and eliminate the delay?

Posted by: Just Sayin' at April 25, 2011 03:34 PM

Dear Jerry:

As "Just Sayin'" noted (thanks!) the original law was in effect in 1990. I'll be adding more specific information in the final installment of this series. Thanks for reading and asking!

Posted by: mikemc at April 25, 2011 05:29 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with your observations and opinions on this matter. It seems that the current policies on school security basically amount to gambling with lives... we don't know when or where the next shooting will happen, but rest assured it will. Why is mainstream society willing to guarantee student injury and death? Because mainstream society keeps gambling that the next shooting won't be at 'our school.'

Posted by: Fellow Teacher at April 25, 2011 10:44 PM

I hope you don't mind, I have linked to your posts at the Nebraska Firearms Owners Association forum. We have recently pushed for a bill which would have allowed school systems to decide whether to allow CCW on site. Sadly, it was again killed in Committee. My hopes is that your words and (gasp) facts, would be helpful come next session.
Impatiently awaiting the final installment!

Posted by: Midwest Patriot at April 25, 2011 10:59 PM

Dear Midwest Patriot:

By all means, link away. I hope that this little series might help to convince at least some of the potential dangers. Thanks for reading.

Posted by: mikemc at April 26, 2011 12:09 AM

I know a high school teacher who publicly stated that the Panama City school board shooting would have turned out right, if all weapons (the security guard) were banned in the school.

I told her point blank that she was evil, and that my guy killed her guy. It's also possible that her belief structure is common with teachers.

She teaches in Iowa, and proudly says that she's a Liberal. Yuck.

Posted by: brando at April 26, 2011 11:13 AM