Before anybody says it, this post isn’t about allowing guns in schools. While there’s plenty of room for debate on the wisdom of that idea, we’ll leave it to another day (or in the comments).
Today’s topic is the much-needed revision of the federal ‘Gun Free’ School Zone act, a poorly-written law that criminalizes self-defense while doing nothing to make schools safer than state laws already do.
First, some background.
The federal Gun Free School Zone Act was originally passed in 1990 and signed by President George Bush (the elder). It was challenged in court and the Supreme Court declared it an unconstitutional use of congressional power, and struck the law down. In 1995, congress made some minor changes to the law (no functional difference) and passed it again. While the Supreme Court hasn’t reviewed it, individuals have been convicted of violating the law and lower federal courts have upheld it.
The law does two things: first, it makes possession of a firearm within 1000 feet of a school a crime punishable by 5 years in prison. Other than on-duty law enforcement or security, only people on private property, people with a carry permit issued by the state the school is in, or people participating in a school program or hunting with school permission are exempted. The only other way to carry a gun on public property in this zone is if it is in a locked container and unloaded (read: worthless for self-defense).
The second part of the law criminalizes the discharge of firearms in this zone, only exempting on-duty law enforcement, security personnel and people participating in a school program unless the firearm discharged is on private property.
The problems with this law as it currently stands?
First, it’s nearly impossible to drive through any urban or suburban area without passing through several of these zones.
Second, there is no exception if a gun is discharged in self-defense, even for those with carry permits or for off-duty law enforcement. If a police officer calls 10-7 in on the radio and is attacked seconds later by a criminal within 1000 feet of a school, he is subject to a federal felony charge. A citizen with a carry permit could shoot Satan himself near a school and become a felon for it.
Third, it conflicts with state and federal laws that allow traveling off-duty officers and permit holders to carry guns for self-defense. Many states recognize permits issued by other states, but this law only recognizes permits issued by the state the school is in. Law enforcement officers traveling under the LEOSA law are likewise unprotected.
Fourth, it doesn’t allow for any unlicensed carry within these zones. Many states allow people to carry openly without a permit or within their own vehicles, but if they pass within 1000 feet of a school without unloading and locking up, they are felons. For unlicensed people who live within 1000 feet of a school, they can’t leave their house with a loaded gun without breaking the law.
Many are pushing for the outright repeal of this law, but as emotionally charged as the subject is I don’t see that happening any time soon. There are simply too many intellectually dishonest people out there who would claim repealing this law would allow guns in schools, despite the fact that nearly every state has laws prohibiting adults from bringing guns to school and prohibiting minors from possessing handguns at all in most circumstances. Those who oppose changing the law are usually rabid anti-gunners who would rather private citizens not possess firearms at all and use any lie they can dream up to work toward that goal.
A more politically-feasible approach, which would only require minor changes, could include:
- Allowing anybody with a license or permit recognized by that state to possess firearms
- Allowing off-duty police officers to possess firearms
- Recognizing vehicles as private property for the purposes of the law
- Allowing discharge of a firearm if justified by the law of the state the school is in
Another possibility would be to take the Texas approach to gun free school zones. In Texas, there is a 300 foot zone around schools where any firearms crime carries an enhanced sentence. Gun possession isn’t forbidden in the zone, but the law hits real criminals extra hard without punishing law-abiding permit holders or off-duty police who wish to lawfully defend themselves from criminals.
Federal prosecutors and law enforcement leadership claim that this law is only meant to quell gang activity within the school zones, and that an off-duty officer or citizen firing in self-defense would never be prosecuted under this law. If that’s the case, then what harm is there in modifying the law to be clear on that point to prevent malicious prosecution?
Call your senator and representative today and tell them to fix this awful law.