Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Of Shooting Galleries And Gun-Free Zones

Originally published as "Who has advantage in a Gun-Free Zone?", Bristol Press, Middletown Press and New Britain Herald, December 14, 2008


You know those amusement-park shooting galleries where you use an air rifle to knock down multiple rows of moving mechanical ducks? The way they work is, you shoot at the targets all you want, and none of the targets can shoot back.

Most schools and workplaces operate on the same principle. Aside from that, they’re quite different from arcade gun ranges. When you read about shooting sprees in gun-free zones, you’ll notice that the shooters wield weapons far more lethal than any air rifle. And they don’t fire at plastic ducks, either.

Behold one of the great paradoxes of modern criminal psychology: Signs that say things such as “This is a gun-free zone” or “Guns are absolutely not allowed here” don’t deter the sort of people who are already ignoring society’s much-stricter prohibitions against mass murder.

Too bad. Gun-free shootings are common enough that English has evolved clichés to describe them: post-office fatalities gave Americans the phrase “Going postal,” while “School shooting” even has its own Wikipedia entry.

But don’t panic. School shootings that lead to fatalities occur in America roughly once every two months, on average. That’s statistically negligible, in a country of more than 300 million. Even when you add office and workplace shootings to the equation, you’re still more likely to die in a car accident than from a bullet fired in a gun-free zone.

Yet the shootings draw interest in ways that car accidents don’t. Why’s that? Maybe the sense of legally enforced helplessness has something to do with it. Accidents happen all the time. Everyone accepts that. As for deliberate attacks ... it’s unlikely some nut on the highway will come gunning for you in his car. But if one does, well, at least you’d be in a car, too. There’s no defensive-driving equivalent to the gun-free zone, no legal requirement that grants attackers advantages over their victims.

And no shortage of well-meaning people who think disarming law-abiding citizens will make it harder for criminals to shoot people.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “the right to keep and bear arms.” Of all freedoms in the Bill of Rights, it’s the only one that Americans can’t legally exercise without written permission from the government. If you’re looking to get this permission for yourself, I can’t tell you how to do it, since the requirements vary from state to state and even city to city.

But whatever the gun laws in your locality, I can tell you this: If you’re unlucky enough to get shot, the guy who did it was probably ignoring those laws anyway.

No matter how many speeches a politician gives in favor of gun control, it’s a safe bet that his own bodyguards are still packing heat. Even if he’s giving a speech at a school or post office or other gun-free zone. The Secret Service and other professional-bodyguard types apparently don’t trust the ability of “No guns allowed” signs to keep shooters from hitting their targets.

That’s the difference between public servants and the public they serve. Our servants’ lives are considered much too valuable to risk in a gun-free zone.