Debate Forum 08/05

Forum Center: Are gun-free zones really safety-free zones?

By Alex Culpepper

Illustration: Jed Helmers

Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Santa Barbara, Calif. and Fort Hood, Texas; were scenes of recent mass shootings. They all have at least one other thing in common, too: they are all gun-free zones. After the shootings, debate about guns was in the news, and part of that debate was whether more public places needed to allow qualified citizens to be able to carry firearms. The sentiment echoed throughout the gun lobby was, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” The quote is attributed to Wayne LaPierre, the NRA Executive Vice President. The statement was, and is, controversial.

A recent shooting in Pennsylvania, however, may be an example of a good guy with a gun stopping bad guy with a gun. At a psychiatric hospital near Philadelphia, an outpatient, Richard Plotts, with a history of mental health problems, in addition to drug, assault and gun charges, shot and killed his caseworker and injured Dr. Lee Silverman, a doctor at the hospital. The doctor, though, was carrying a gun and unloaded on the patient, shooting the perpetrator several times. The patient was eventually subdued, and the incident was over. As law enforcement later found an additional 39 ammunition rounds in the patient’s pocket, the vigilante doctor had likely saved lives, in addition to his own. The hospital is a gun-free zone, and now investigators will be finding answers as to why the doctor had a gun at the hospital. The debate about the merits of having gun-free zones and whether they make public areas safer, or just make people sitting ducks for angry people who don’t follow gun laws, has amplified.

Opponents of the gun-free zones claim these places are not safe, and they’re simply an invitation for gun-wielding maniacs to come and shoot up a place where no “good guy with a gun” can defend the area. They say the law-abiding general public will honor a gun-free zone, but criminals usually don’t follow laws posted to a door on a building. Opponents use the shooting in Philadelphia as an example of why gun-free zones are not safe, and citizens should have the right to be armed; the doctor’s defensive actions may have prevented more carnage.

Regardless of the Philadelphia doctor’s actions, supporters of gun-free zones believe them to be the best solution for preventing gun violence. According to statistics, they say, no one has shot up a place because it was specifically gun-free, they did it because they had a problem with a person or persons who are in a place that just happens to be a gun-free zone. They argue many mass shootings over the past 30 years involved a shooter with direct ties to the place he or she has chosen to target, rather than because it was an easy target.

It remains to be determined what will happen to Silverman. He was breaking the law by possessing a gun at the hospital, but he appears to have stopped what could have been a mass shooting. It may be possible he held special permission to carry the gun, but no one at the hospital has confirmed or denied this. This case may very well be the basis of a new silver bullet example gun-free zone opponents would use to argue why armed citizens are the best solution, but the other side believes it doesn’t matter because shooters don’t care whether a place is gun-free or not.

Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at

Debate Left: Eisenhower predicted this back in ’61

By Marianne Stanley

Hmmmm. “Do gun-free zones really keep people safe?” That’s such a silly question and the answer is glaringly apparent. Of course they don’t keep people safe! A more appropriate question might be, “Do gun-free zones keep people safer than they would be otherwise?” 

But truly, both of those questions miss the mark. Underlying this week’s debate is the troubling fact we are a society in freefall, disintegrating almost before our eyes. In such a place, we can expect all kinds of mayhem and misery. The regularity of shootings isn’t the cause of the disorder; it is a symptom of it. 

Take a good look around. Our government isn’t governing anymore as the representative of the majority, but is instead a pawn of powerful people and corporations. The media isn’t reporting facts anymore, but is instead a propaganda machine for whichever corporation owns it. Religion has become a battering ram rather than a godly hug for all of God’s children; the so-called “Justice System” isn’t, leaving filthy rich criminals in their corporate and governmental positions while millions of their hapless victims are left jobless and homeless. Human beings seem to be turning their backs on their own humanity, flaunting their own heartlessness and sinking into depraved indifference toward the awful suffering of others. 

Even Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the Allied Forces in World War II and a retired five-star general, saw this day coming when he used his farewell address to the nation in 1961 to warn against the military-industrial complex with its “potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power.” He foresaw corporate power linking itself to and corrupting government, as its army of lobbyists became a dire threat to democracy with government spending its money on funding armies and warplanes instead of on schools and hospitals for its citizens. 

And here it is, played out in real time, in our everyday lives as corporations and their government accomplices set us against each other, using everything from faux constitutional issues to religion to accomplish their goal of keeping us occupied while they suck the last drop of democratic life out of our country.

This isn’t about whether or not that psychiatrist should have had a gun in his office. It isn’t about whether gun-zones are safe. This issue is really about a nation that has gone totally batshit insane and that is still swinging at its mythical enemies as it plummets over the edge, leaving the powers-that-be standing up there on that ledge, smirking at us as we fade out of sight.

The gun issue, the abortion issue, the immigration issue, all of our supposed issues are more fabricated than real, designed to make us enemies of each other so we can’t see clearly enough to see who our real nemesis is. How very clever to use false patriotism to get us to praise troops who are forced to kill in non-wars, while ignoring the real toll it takes on them, their families and this nation. How cunning to appeal to the unquestioning adherents of organized religion to set person against person by cloaking cruelty and the interference in the moral decisions of others in “sanctity of life” verbiage. How tragic for all of us, since we all need each other in order to heal, to accomplish great things, to rebuild our nation into a greater version of its former self – into what it could and should be. 

A key component of our confusion and ignorance, pretty much about everything, lies in the loss of our once-robust television news and independent newspapers. What has happened to the underlying mandate formerly required of every reporter to give the public whatever they needed to know to be good citizens and to provide the “Five W’s and the H” – the who, what, when, where, why and how for every news story? To see how news has been destroyed and replaced with drivel, garbage and propaganda, do yourself a favor and sit down any night to watch it and make notes of how many or how few of those W’s and H are present in any news story now. Bet not a single story will meet that standard!

Without that information, we have no way to judge, to know, to be informed and educated. For instance, I read no fewer than seven articles from various sources about this shooting between a psychiatrist and his patient. Even the “facts” varied substantially. Worse, these supposed “news” stories provided conclusions for the reader rather than just reporting the incident. Based on no eyewitness accounts except that of one of the shooters, these articles concocted a whole seemingly factual scenario way too early in the game without all the facts. 

Why didn’t the hospital have metal detectors? And, what, in God’s name, is the objection to background checks on gun buyers? Since when is sanity and reasonableness tossed out in favor of the crazies having things their way? When are we going to act like a civilized society again? Want to see these shootings and all this crime end? Start by ensuring jobs, a living wage, educational opportunities, day care, affordable housing. People that are OK aren’t out on the streets committing crimes. Look deeper. See beyond the headlines and beyond the pat, shallow and oftentimes callous answers. Then, we just might get somewhere and not even be having discussions like these at all. 

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at

Debate Right: The myth of security in a gun-free zone

By David H. Landon

On the front door of the home of Dr. Lee Silverman, there is a picture, obviously drawn by a child, of a man with a bandage on his head and on his thumb. In child’s writing the picture’s caption reads, “My dad is a hero.” Earlier, his father had disregarded a “no-gun zone” rule at Mercy Hospital in Philadelphia, and because he did, he is alive today. Countless others in the hospital are also alive. 

The child’s poignant drawing depicted the injuries Silverman received when Richard Plotts, a patient with a history of mental health problems as well as a criminal history of assault and gun charges, began firing a weapon. Plotts shot and killed his caseworker, 53-year-old Theresa Hunt. He then turned his gun on Silverman, who was grazed in the head and the hand before pulling his own weapon and in returning fire, struck Plotts and stopped the attack. 

Fortunately, Silverman ignored the rule imposed by Mercy Hospital. He was undoubtedly aware the workers in the mental health industry are four times as likely to be assaulted on the job. He took steps to be allowed to legally carry a concealed weapon, which he believed he needed for his own safety. A Department of Justice survey found 55,882 workplace violent crimes against psychiatrists, social workers and other mental health professionals from 2005 to 2009. Being licensed to conceal and carry a weapon seems like responsible behavior if you are working in the mental health industry. Creating “gun-free” zones – limiting the ability of these professionals to protect themselves from violence, which is evidently pretty commonplace – is simply foolish. Evidently, the Mercy Hospital is now undergoing a review of their policy as Silverman’s actions saved lives – which is ordinarily the goal of a hospital. 

Just who is it these zones are designed to deter from carrying a weapon within their jurisdiction and perimeter? For both criminals and mentally impaired individuals, these zones make absolutely no difference and create no deterrence. A review of the mass shootings over the past several years shows a “gun-free zone” makes absolutely no difference. The shooters in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Santa Barbara, Calif. and Fort Hood, Texas had at least one thing in common, in addition to being mentally deranged: all of the attacks all took place in gun free zones. 

In those tragic instances, the only individuals who followed the “gun-free rule” were the law-abiding citizens who found themselves unable to defend themselves. Even at Fort Hood, a U.S. Army base, political correctness had gone so far as to disarm our servicemen and servicewomen even on the base. The gunman, whose name I refuse to acknowledge as I won’t give that cretin any more publicity, in a ten-minute rampage, killed 13 and wounded over 30 before the base civilian police shot and subdued the shooter.    

It happens again and again in “gun-free zones.” In Pearl, Miss., a 16-year-old sophomore entered Pearl High School with a hunting rifle. Opening fire, he killed two students and wounded seven. The assistant principal, Joel Myrick, ran to his truck and retrieved the .45 automatic weapon he kept there. Running back toward the school he spotted the shooter in the parking lot. Ordering the teen to stop, the vice principal put his gun to the shooter’s neck and held him until police arrived. 

In 2002 in Grundy, Va. at Appalachian Law School, a disgruntled student entered a school building and shot and killed the dean and a professor. He then shot four students, killing one. Hearing the shots fired, two students, Michael Gross and Tracy Bridges, ran to their cars to retrieve their guns. With guns aimed at the shooter, Bridges ordered him to drop his weapon. When the shooter turned and saw Bridges’ gun, he laid down his weapon and put his hands in the air. In each of these last two examples, the shooter was stopped by someone with a gun who had to first leave the building, run to a car in the parking lot, retrieve a weapon and, only then, confront the shooter. This took critical time, which may have cost additional lives, all because of the absurdity of a “no-gun zone.” 

For the deranged shooters, the zones are meaningless. However, for hardened criminals, the “gun-free zones” represent job safety. What do felons think about an armed citizenry? A survey of convicted felons by the National Institute of Justice found 74 percent of the felons agreed burglars avoid houses when people are home for fear of being shot during the crime. 

The solution to this problem is not to create a national policy, as the Obama administration and some in Congress are now promoting, of making 1,000-foot “no-gun zones” for all American schools. This will have no effect on the gun violence we see today. Instead, we need to have a serious conversation about how we need to deal with mental health patients in a more aggressive fashion. There needs to be a solution of where a family can send an aggressively behaving and mentally challenged member of their family to a safe facility where the patient can get the care he or she needs. And we as a society need to agree we will pay for that secure facility and treatment.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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