A man died. He left his typewriter to his lawyer, and in the back of the typewriter, the lawyer found a .32 revolver and a handful of ammunition. This would only be a curiosity, except the man died in Virginia’s death row and the typewriter came from his cell.1 Gun-free zones simply aren’t.
The first gun-free zone was around Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare’s time. Her ally Prince William the Silent had been assassinated at the behest of their mutual enemy King Phillip of Spain. The assassin used a wheel-lock pistol, the first assassination by handgun in history. Not to let a crisis go to waste, a law was passed prohibiting pistols within 2 miles of her majesty.2 This would seem an excessive zone, except the purpose of the law was to allow the homes of the Queen’s enemies to be searched for handguns.
The first gun-free zone was around Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare’s time.
Ancient English law made an Englishman’s home his castle. The principle was later defined in 1763 by the British prime minister, known variously as William Pitt or Pitt the Elder: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter.” The royal safety law changed this bedrock principle that was revived and lives in our Fourth Amendment, although in frail health. The legend is that vampires cannot enter a home without invitation. It is a shame that vampires have more regard for a citizen’s castle than governments do.
The Bad Old Days
The earliest American gun-free areas were not established until after Reconstruction in the South, and similar laws were passed banning firearms in certain zones. Those zones were not directed at crime. For the first time, banks and trains were being robbed, but the gun-free zones were directed at schools, churches, elections and “public assemblages.” Schools and churches were meeting places for ex-slaves and were frequently attacked. Members attempting to defend the institutions could be arrested for bearing arms in gun-free zones.
“Public assemblages” went gloriously undefined and flexible enough to encompass any activity for a century and a quarter. A man walked into a convenience store with an unloaded pistol openly carried in a shoulder holster. The store sold ammunition, and the man thought this would not be a problem. He was wrong. The two clerks reported the event, and the prosecutor took this and the purchase of three packs of cigarettes as evidence of intent to commit suicide. For his own good, the man was arrested and charged with bringing a gun into a public assemblage. The two clerks were claimed as an assemblage, the court ruled.3
The earliest American gun-free areas were not established until after Reconstruction in the South, and similar laws were passed banning firearms in certain zones.
The language of the subsection makes it clear that the law is designed to proscribe the carrying of a weapon where people have gathered for religious, educational, political, civic or social purposes and that the emphasis of the subsection is on the gathering of people and the effect thereon of the presence of a weapon and not the question of whether a place happens to be open to the public. The pretense was that the law was to preserve the peace at such gatherings. Experience shows that it allowed authorities to disarm unpopular groups and make them vulnerable to assault.
The usual suspects loudly remind us of Old West towns with “no guns” ordinances. These ordinances were lightly enforced and then were only leveled at outsiders and political opponents.
‘It’s For Your Own Good’
Today there are many gun-free zones for the claimed purpose of keeping said zones safe. Experience shows that they not only fail to create safety but also attract violence. Studies show that between 92 and 95 percent of rapid mass murders have occurred in gun-free zones4, and experience has shown that the only times a mass killing has been reliably stopped is when the killer met armed resistance. There have been a few times when people have wrestled guns from an attacker, but only after people have died. In one case, a lady convinced the attacker to give up his gun. In far more cases, the first person attempting to persuade the attacker was the first person shot.
Experience has also shown that rapid mass murderers plan their assaults in detail. However, they do not have any tactical flexibility. When the Colorado theater murderer’s magazine jammed, he did not transition to his other weapons. He froze in confusion. When attackers meet even ineffectual resistance, they surrender or (more frequently) commit suicide.
It is often said that an armed officer was at Columbine High School when the two suspects attacked. More accurately, a deputy sheriff was near the school; the attackers planned it that way. He engaged the psychopaths at excessive range for his pistol.5 There was a brief firefight, which allowed more students to escape. Then the attackers retreated to the library and committed suicide.
The same general theme is carried out over and over, largely kept secret. At the Appalachia School of Law, students ran to their cars for guns and subdued a killer. News reports of the incident were almost unanimous in leaving out that the students were armed. Professor John R. Lott Jr. found that, of 280 news stories in the week after the event, only four mentioned armed students.6 The evidence is that the media powers felt the truth sent the wrong message. It is said that, in war, “Truth is the first casualty.”
It is said that, in war, “Truth is the first casualty.”
The usual suspects demand gun-free zones in the face of evidence that they do not work on any level. They claim that there have been no mass killings stopped by an armed citizen. This is, of course, a lie7, and it is a cold debater who demands a gun-free zone and then complains that no one has defended himself there. They often claim that if people shot back, then bullets would be going everywhere and innocent people would be killed. This expresses contempt for the marksmanship of concealed carriers and ignores that, during rapid mass murders, bullets are going everywhere except at the murderer. If the usual suspects could cite any such incidents, it would be worth discussing.
Those usual suspects may really believe they accomplish something. Ancient China employed eunuchs in positions of financial responsibility, the theory being that, since they would have no children, they had no motivation to steal wealth to leave to heirs. (Ancient China did not consider that, having no children, eunuchs also had no one to support them in their old age.) Being eunuchs, they had nothing better to do than become notoriously corrupt. Recognizing this reality required admitting a mistake was made and going against tradition; people do not like to admit mistakes, and the longer the mistake has been practiced, the harder it is to admit.
So what are gun owners to do about gun-free zones? A Missouri gun owner refused to attend a gun-rights rally in the state capitol building because it was a gun-free zone at that time and therefore dangerous.8 But that is where the politicians were and where the changes would be made.
Some have insisted on defying the law, and the penalties for violating the law range from mere infractions to federal felonies. The movement has had martyrs, but having them locked up does no good. Provoking a case with the intent to “take it to the Supreme Court” takes careful planning and, in the last two cases, $2.5 million each. To gamble this amount of money and the rights of millions of gun owners requires consultation with those gun owners.
A store posting a “No Guns” sign becomes the insurer of customers’ safety, and when a store has assumed such responsibility, persons injured can sue.
Defying the law is not a good reputation to have. In short, it is poor public relations. Texas and Florida are the only states that track crimes committed by concealed carry permit holders, and every year, it is an insignificant fraction of 1 percent. In fact, it is lower than the number of crimes committed by law enforcement officers. To encourage crimes, even against senseless laws, even against stupid laws, is bad public relations. The movement has made progress on its reputation for being friends of and workers for politicians, and politicians can’t afford to associate with criminals. There will be a time here and there for civil disobedience, but gun owners cannot ruin their reputations in fits of pique, regardless of the stakes at hand.
Gun owners can boycott stores posting signs reading, “No Guns,” signs that will be useful only when guns learn how to read or when psychopaths start obeying signs. A store posting such a sign becomes the insurer of customers’ safety, and when a store has assumed such responsibility, persons injured can sue. Come to think of it, they should sue.9
Let the lawyers say, “Amen.”
(1) “Inmate approaching execution tells lawyer about hidden gun,” Kansas City Star, 27 May, 1995, P A-9, clm 1. (2) Jardine, Lisa, The Awful End of Prince William the Silent, HarperCollins Publisher, NY, 2005, at 157. (3)State vs. Yates and Jackson, 982 S.W.2d 767 (Mo App. W.D. 1998), at 769-770. (4) If the FBI definition of mass killings is used. The usual suspects have twisted this definition to confuse the issue. (5) The killers had a 9mm Hi-Point carbine and shotguns. (6) Lott; John R., Jr., Straight Shooting, Merril Press, Bellevue, WA, MerrilPress.com, 2006, at 97-8. (7) See generally Bird; Chris, Surviving a Mass Killer Rampage, Privateer Publications, San Antonio, Texas, PrivateerPublications.com, 2016. (8) That has changed, and the capital building (but not other government buildings) in Jefferson City, Missouri, is open to persons with a License to Carry and their guns. As stated elsewhere, “It doesn’t have to make sense, it’s just the law.” (9) Jamison, Kevin, “Signs,” Concealed Carry Magazine, January 2008, at 26 et seq.