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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Gun-free doesn’t equal risk-free

Seizing on the sorrowful wake of the horror in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, gun-control advocates redoubled their efforts, hoping – among other things – to turn gun-free school zones into really, really gun-free school zones. Plans were drafted to harden school entrances and hire additional armed law enforcement to patrol each campus, neither of which is a lousy idea.

But Alan Hays, a state senator from the very heart of Florida, says it isn’t enough. On the theory that fences can be defeated and lone rangers can be distracted or leave campus for lunch, the Umatilla Republican wants school boards to have the freedom to allow those with military or law enforcement backgrounds to carry concealed weapons on campus, forming sort of a fail-safe campus militia.

Hays’ bill has cleared committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives – not without howling from assorted editorial boards. Their complaint, in a nutshell: Schools are no place for guns.

They’re not going to get an argument from me. However, saying it and making sure it 100 percent never happens are two different things. And it’s the rather wide gap between talk and action that makes all the difference.

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If only there were someplace where something like what Hays proposes has been tried. You know, somewhere they’ve been doing this long enough that we could point to it as evidence that Hays is either (a) absolutely out of his mind and should be recalled by District 11 voters with vigor and prejudice or (b) actually onto something.

How’s that again? There is such a place?

Actually, there are many such places, stretching from New Hampshire to Hawaii, where school personnel are doing what Hays hopes to authorize here, and the number is growing. Last year, wrestling with the hard lessons of Sandy Hook Elementary, 33 states considered legislation to allow the arming of teachers and administrators.

In the end, only five states codified some form of the plan, but that doesn’t mean the idea lacks momentum. A similar bill is on the move in Wyoming. Colorado may reconsider a bill defeated last year. Texas is rolling out an expansive guns-on-campus program, and in Massachusetts, Louisiana and Nevada, school officials are authorized to allow employees to come to school packing.

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But we are thinking, primarily, of Utah, where for the last dozen years, it’s been legal for anyone with a concealed carry permit to take a loaded gun to school without telling a soul, not even the principal.

How’s that working out? Consider: The number of catastrophic scenarios predicted by anti-gun activists has been precisely zero. No random, accidental, impassioned or gratuitous shootings. And, best of all, no rampage shootings.

It’s not hard to figure out why. The assumption on every Beehive State campus is that all the adults are armed, which reduces the likelihood of gunplay. This is not ironic. As Robert A. Heinlein, a 20th Century science fiction novelist, wrote, “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

By contrast, schools – and malls, movie multiplexes, military processing centers and so on – that put up signs barring guns are simply inviting trouble. Gun-free zones tend to be exactly that ... until the guy with homicidal intent shows up, fueled by the knowledge that he’s unlikely to meet deadly resistance.

Utah’s happy experience reveals much about the misapprehension that drives opposition to Hays’ reasonable middle ground. His vision isn’t to invite campus replays of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. It’s to make sure they never happen at all.

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