Debate Forum 2/9/16

Does gun-free mean safety?

Tim Walker

We, the people of these United States, are a nation of gun-owners. The Second Amendment to our Constitution, ratified in 1791, grants all American citizens the right to arm themselves, and this right is a cornerstone of our Bill of Rights, one which cannot be infringed upon by our federal government. In 2009, the Congressional Research Service estimated that there were more than 310 million guns legally owned by civilians in the United States—at the time, the population of the United States was just under 307 million.

Of course this right comes at a cost, as all rights do. The National Rifle Association may agree or disagree that incidents of gun violence exponentially increase with high rates of gun ownership, but statistics show the United States has a higher rate of gun violence than any other country on Earth. More than 32,000 people die from gunshot wounds every year in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In addition, a recent trend in our society has become disturbingly more common: mass shootings, when armed gunmen or women enter public places and kill as many people as possible before they themselves are killed or arrested, or until they kill themselves. All too often, the areas where these tragedies occur are designated “gun-free zones”: areas where firearm possession is illegal, making the gunman the only armed individual, completely in control of his or her surroundings and able to inflict a great deal of damage in a short amount of time. Areas such as schools, churches, theatres and most workplaces are decreed gun-free zones by local authorities—a situation that some think makes them too obviously a vulnerable target for a mentally disturbed, uninhibited shooter intent on mass destruction.

Opponents to this idea say the Constitution does not provide for public “gun-free zones” any more than it does public “free speech-free zones.” And if the right to keep and bear arms is truly a fundamental right, then the government cannot interfere with it simply based on geography. If the army veteran and college student who was shot seven times during Oregon’s recent Umpqua Community College mass shooting, saving the lives of his classmates, had been permitted to carry a gun into the school building, then the gunman would have been stopped long before police arrived, and long before he killed nine people, they say. Gun-free zones, they say, often arbitrarily designated on public property by local authorities, strip law-abiding citizens of their lawfully owned guns and their natural right to self-defense, putting them in harm’s way. Criminals, by definition, do not obey laws. Therefore, critics of the gun-free zones argue, the very idea of a gun-free zone makes no sense at all.

Proponents of gun-free zones say we are a nation of law-abiding citizens, and that guns have no place in schools, in churches or in most workplaces. Mass shootings, like the proverbial strike of lightning, cannot be predicted, they say. The barbaric idea of bringing guns into a classroom or the church simply encourages violence, and the act of surrendering our ideals of life in a civilized society creates a climate of fear allows the crazed gunmen or woman to win.

Does designating an area a “safe zone” make it safer by definition? Or does the idea of a building filled with unarmed people simply offer a deranged gunman a turkey shoot, so to speak—a building filled with targets who have no ability to fight back? In turn, does the idea of arming our teachers strike at the root of our self-image, our vision of a dignified nation that eschews violence and embraces progress? Or have we set ourselves up for a return to the Wild West, with armed citizens shooting it out in the streets?

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts.

Utility and legality

Brad Sarchet

Apparently not. But if we focus on what is required to establish a gun-free zone under the current definition, my question shifts from “Do they keep us safe” to “Is a written notice prohibiting guns sufficient to stop people who wish to carry/use them with criminal intent?” Of course not. I’m not sure how the conclusion was reached that merely placing a sign on a door or in a yard would actually stop those who unlawfully carry guns. This seems very naive to me. With this in mind, do we still reach the conclusion that gun-free zones have no utility? I do not believe so. Even if it is the case that most gun-free zones are ineffective, that does not lead to the necessary conclusion that they should not be established and enforced. It leads to the conclusion that the owners of such “zones” need to be more vigilant in enforcing the prohibition of guns on their premises. And herein lies the problem: enforcement.

What does our current law state? It states that the right to prohibit guns in a business or private residence is the law in Ohio and, therefore, should be enforced like any other law.
Statutory Reference(s): ORC 2923.126(C) allows private employers to prohibit the presence of firearms on their property or in motor vehicles owned by the employer. ORC 2923.126(C)(3) allows the owner or person in control of private land to post a sign in a conspicuous place that prohibits persons from carrying concealed firearms on that property.
So in Ohio, you cannot lawfully carry a gun into a business/private property where there are conspicuous signs informing you firearms are prohibited. Further, it seems that every owner of a business/private residence is free to prohibit guns as they wish and the only thing they need to do is post a “conspicuous” sign.

One particular “business” in which I am interested relates to carrying guns on college campuses. I find it interesting that, currently, all states in the U.S. fall into one of three categories:
1. Concealed carry is permitted on all college campuses in the state.
2. Concealed carry is prohibited on all college campuses in the state. (Ohio and 18 other states are in this category.)
3. Colleges within the state are free to establish their own rules regarding concealed carry.

Many who are against gun-free zones claim that since this “law” is broken so easily and frequently, it should not be a law at all. My simple response is that if we were to simply abolish all laws because they are easily or frequently broken, there would be no laws left on the books.

Even though prohibiting concealed carry in certain places is lawful, the question remains as to whether or not gun-free zones limit our individual rights as granted by the Constitution. I agree that they do, but in certain cases, this limitation it justified.

I would argue the government not only has the right but the obligation to interfere with an individual’s rights if their expression results in harm to others. Numerous cases of the government’s justifiable infringement on individual rights can be found, and the right to free speech provides easy examples. The First Amendment may well afford us the right to free speech, but this does not mean we are free to scream “FIRE” in a crowded theatre or stand on a soap box and incite a riot. And clearly people are justifiably sued for slander on a regular basis. Our “freedom of speech” only goes so far and ends when it poses sufficient harm to others. “Sufficient harm to others” puts this discussion on a slippery slope, but I believe most of us will agree on “sufficient harm” in many cases. The right to bear arms must be subject to similar limitations based on the overall security of the people. I would assume that all readers of this paper wish that the right to bear arms HAD been limited for those crazed mass-murders we have recently witnessed.

So, what does all this mean for our attempt to establish “gun-free zones”? It means that we should, indeed, establish gun-free zones where the presence of guns has no legitimate purpose and has the potential to cause more harm than good. Several examples of successful gun-free zones do exist, and I’m guessing that most, if not all, readers agree that they are justifiable. Airports in our post-9/11 world are a prime example. After 9/11, who truly believes their right to bear arms is being unjustifiably denied as they pass their belongings though an X-ray machine and walk through the metal detector in an airport? I am glad to give up my right to bear arms when flying because it makes me feel safer than flying with a plane full of passengers armed with unknown weapons.

My second example would be the courthouse I recently entered to obtain a marriage license. Again, I was entering a gun-free zone and was required to pass my belongings though an X-ray machine and walk through a metal detector in the presence of an armed guard. My right to bear arms was clearly denied, but I had no problem with that. I would not want to be in a building during a murder trial if the courtroom was full of armed citizens, so I’m glad everyone entering the building was denied their right to bear arms.

What my examples point to is the necessity of enforcing a ban on weapons in a gun-free zone. In both of my examples, the enforcement of banning weapons was sufficient to reasonably prevent everyone from carrying weapons, including those with either lawful or unlawful intent. I believe that if a business or individual wishes to ban weapons, then they also must bear the burden of reasonably enforcing that law. Merely placing a sign on the door is clearly not reasonable enforcement.

If my security cannot be assured in a “gun-free zone,” then I should be allowed to legally carry my own weapon, as I can everywhere else. And by the way, I do support our right to bear arms—I own a gun and possess an Ohio CCW permit, so this is not an abstract issue for me.

Brad Sarchet, Ph.D., has advanced degrees in philosophy and physiology and is currently a biology professor at a local university. He is interested in the philosophy of science and animal physiology. He’s also an old hippy and Dead Head. Reach him at BradSarchet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

The quick and the dead

Don Hurst

Do gun-free zones keep us safe? Victims of Aurora, Sandy Hook, Umpqua Community College, the Naval Shipyard and too many others know the answer better than most of us. According to the 2014 FBI report on active shooters, 85 percent of these incidents occur in locations that are typically gun-free zones: schools, businesses, government buildings, churches and health care facilities.

The sheer number of mass shootings in gun-free zones is proof that those flimsy placards declaring that guns are not allowed on the premises do not keep people safe. In fact, they might even encourage violence. James Holmes, the Aurora theatre shooter, did not select the closest theatre to his house. He did not even select the largest. He drove 20 miles to the closest, largest theatre that placed a gun-free sign on its door. However, at this point in time, it can’t be proved that Holmes chose his location solely because it did not allow guns. So I will focus on the weaknesses of a gun-free zone from a tactical perspective.

First, the problem is not the gun. Whenever an active shooter situation occurs, victims call 911, hoping that police officers with guns arrive quickly enough to save their lives. At the moment of a mass shooting, the time for debating gun laws and mental health expenditures is over. For those in harm’s way, the situation requires an immediate solution. They do not call legislators or psychiatrists for help. They call other people with guns.

If the gun is the proper tool to protect people from an active shooter, then why not allow law abiding citizens to defend themselves? The problem must be with the citizens. Why let private citizens carry weapons when we can just call the police to protect us? That’s the police department’s job.

I am very pro-police, but I do not rely on them to be my first line of defense. Neither should you. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the average police response time to an active shooter is 18 minutes. Once officers arrive on scene, they still have to enter an unfamiliar location and find the suspect. FBI research shows that 70 percent of these incidents are over in less than five minutes, long before the police can even effectively engage the shooter.

The math proves that the police—no matter how brave, no matter how capable, no matter how much they want to save lives—are not the most effective tool against an active shooter. Whatever is going to happen will happen before they even arrive on scene. That means survival depends on the preparation and decisions of those directly involved in the situation.

Still, we don’t need average people to carry guns, right? We can just fortify likely targets. My son’s school performs active shooter drills. They lock down the building at the first sign of trouble. I believe the administration is working hard to prepare. Their plans will undoubtedly mitigate the loss of life, but there will still be casualties. The lockdown strategy can’t predict the myriad variables that people bring to the mix. What about the children who went to use the bathroom now trapped in the hallways? What if kids were in the middle of class change? What about that substitute teacher who doesn’t even know the active shooter plan?

Officials know these fortifications don’t protect everyone. They know that active shooters will have enough stragglers to keep their attention while police respond. The delay and fortify strategy depends on it. In any large pack of humans, there will always be some who are crippled, handicapped, mentally incapable of responding and those who are just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The lives of many will be saved due to the sacrifice of the slow and the unlucky.

One common theme in these tragedies is that there usually is at least one brave person who is not content to hide. People like Sandy Hook special education teacher Anne Marie Murphy who was found slumped over her students as a human shield or Umpqua Community College student Chris Mintz who was shot seven times as he charged the attacker. These heroes faced evil unarmed. What more could they do if we allowed them the proper tools?

Those who are opposed to guns worry about how much more dangerous our world would become if just anybody was allowed to carry weapons into places like schools. While Ohio is an open carry state, it does not allow just anyone to carry a concealed weapon. Concealed carry permit holders have to pass a criminal background check and successfully complete a state-certified course, which emphasizes judgment, applicable laws and technical skill. The have to not only prove they can shoot, but also know when and why to shoot.

In gun-free zones, the protection of our children depends on a placard reading “guns are not allowed,” an average 18-minute police response time and a strategy that allows others to hide behind easier targets. A policy that allows certified, properly trained individuals to defend themselves and others is a more effective option. More lives will be saved by bolstering the current lockdown strategy with a more active defense.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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