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No Panaceas Please, We’re Conservatives



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Per the Washington Post:

Del. Robert G. Marshall is proposing a bill that would require some teachers or other school staff to carry concealed weapons in schools.

Marshall (R-Prince William) requested that the bill be drafted in response to the mass shooting last week at a Connecticut elementary school.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said this week that there should be a discussion about whether school staff should be allowed to carry concealed weapons to protect children against intruders.

Marshall’s proposal goes beyond the governor’s comments, which were made in the course of a radio interview Tuesday. Marshall would not only allow staff with concealed handgun permits to carry them in schools, but require school districts to designate some staff members to do so. Those employees would have to be certified in gun safety and competence, Marshall said.

I suspect that it is here that I may break with my some of my fellow pro-Second Amendment-types, at least with those who are advocates of guns qua guns. I am a staunch defender of the classically liberal principles in the U.S. Constitution, and of the historical fact that the individual right to bear arms is philosophically inextricable from the free citizen’s relationship with a state that he created. But I am not of the view that guns can do no wrong. That is to say that, while I accept the overwhelming empirical evidence that laws will not stop madmen or outlaws from committing crimes (especially in a country that already has 200 million-plus guns in circulation) and while I will happily argue until I am blue in the face that there is a big difference between pointing to Europe as evidence that fewer guns lead to less gun crime and achieving that continent’s level of gun ownership in the United States, I am not convinced that “more guns” is the answer to every question. Sometimes, it is. Sometimes, it is not.

There is an important distinction to be drawn between, say, deploying an armed police officer to each American school or allowing its staff to carry their arms, and forcing people who work there to carry a firearm. A person with a gun in the building will almost certainly help the cause of safety, but that certainly doesn’t mean we should ignore how they are put there and who they are. First off, forcing someone to bear arms against their will — or making it a condition of otherwise-unrelated employment opportunities — may well sour otherwise liberal people on the principle of the right to bear arms. It could significantly change the sort of people who want to work in a school, too. This would be a shame. Secondly, whether they are trained or not, it does not always make sense to put firearms into the hands of people who explicitly do not want them. Many people who are happy to live and let live in a nation with free gun laws do not want to own or be trained to use a gun. This is a reasonable request, and we should listen when a person says that they don’t wish to be given responsibility for a lethal weapon.

Callous as this may seem to say so soon after last Friday’s abomination, the United States does not have a crisis with school violence. In fact, the opposite is true: school violence is going down. When compared to, say, the murder rate in the city of Chicago — in which city 2,597 people have been shot and 517 people killed in the last year — the notion that the collected minds of the American government should be focusing on the schoolhouse looks a touch hysterical. We might want to calm down a bit before radically altering our educational environments.

I am supportive of Governor McDonell’s suggestion that we should reconsider the absurdity of “gun free zones.” Yes, it should be up to each individual business to determine whether they will allow guns on their premises. But a government school is a not a business, and if the government is going to set policy for the organizations it runs, then it probably should not openly advertise the abject vulnerability of its facilities. If teachers wish to use their concealed- or open-carry rights in schools, then good for them. That aside, however, some of the claims that conservatives have made post-Newtown have been fanciful. This was a school, not a scene from Rambo.

It is entirely possible that the knowledge that fire might be returned by armed teaching staff could have forced a would-be school-killer to reconsider his designs. Indeed, much of the data appears to support both this proposition and the idea that there is absolutely nothing to be gained by guaranteeing gunmen that their targets will be wholly unprotected. But those of us who are suspicious of panaceas should be careful before we are seen to suggest that every single crime problem in America would be resolved if we’d just ensure that everybody was armed — whether they like it nor. Laws almost certainly can’t fix this problem, and that goes for ones written by conservatives too.



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