Scotty Boman, Editorial
I begin this editorial with the assumption that every reader is aware of the tragedy that took place this past St. Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
I firmly believe we Libertarians have a chance to save lives, by applying our principles to the public conversations that shape public policy. Consider, first, the ground in which we plant the seeds of change.
Each tragedy is as unique as the individual lives that were taken, but there is too much in common between this, and so many other, mass shootings to ignore. People’s reactions have also been very similar. On past occasions pundits and politicians have held back on exploiting such tragedies until some time had passed, but that time has become progressively more brief. Like a broken record, the Democratic left has blamed civilian access to guns, and their solution has been to legally restrict it. Like a broken record, the Republican right has fallen back on the Second Amendment and slippery slope arguments with very little to offer in the way of solutions.
Conservative Republicans will pay lip service to the tragedies and offer heartfelt prayers. They may offer to give up other rights like people’s privacy or due process. They may just lament that this is the price we must pay for a free society. Some will dodge questions by saying it isn’t the time to discuss politics. Then there have been the “moderate” Republicans who helped bring us legislation like the Brady Law and the (since-expired) ban on the import of assault-style weapons. [Recently there was a notable exception, but I will get back to that]
With this narrative playing out, it is no wonder that opponents of civilian gun ownership have been able to seize the moral high ground. I recently saw a post that read, “If children are slaughtered in their school and your reaction is ‘Don’t you dare think about taking my guns!!’ rather than ‘How do we stop this from ever happening again??’ then we don’t have a difference in political opinion, we have a difference in morality.” I couldn’t help but agree. Appeals to pieces of parchment and one’s love for sporting goods, ring hollow when contrasted with the efforts of grieving people who appear to only be interested in saving lives.
In this election year Libertarian candidates will have an opportunity to support policies that will save lives. Michigan’s Libertarians stand to get unprecedented media exposure in their first state-wide primary. They will be faced with questions about guns, and they will have answers.
Mass shootings have had a couple things in common; the major news networks have primarily focused on the most obvious: Mass shooters used guns. One thing is only slightly less obvious to people who are paying attention, but I spent almost a week watching network and local news without hearing a thing about it; these shootings almost always happen in venues designated to be “Gun-Free Zones.” Data supporting this assertion was compiled by the Crime Prevention Research Center. Between 1998 and 2015 96.2% of mass shootings have been in gun-free zones. If viewed over a longer period this pattern is even more pronounced. Between 1950 and 2015 98.4% of these mass shootings have been in such venues. It is worth noting that Federal Law only started making schools into Gun-Free Zones in the 1990’s in spite of statistical evidence that this was a bad idea.
Now it’s time to give some credit where it’s due. No significant air time was granted to any pro-gun solution until Donald Trump brought up the idea of arming teachers. Clearly he was one voice they couldn’t ignore. It remains to be seen, however, how long he will stand firm on this position and whether he will have any help from other Republicans. It also remains to be seen if he understands the proper Federal role of getting out of the way, and allowing these policies to be worked out at state and local levels. He has already pandered to the anti-gun crowd with his bump-stock-ban idea. But one thing is for sure, Libertarians can do better than this; schools aren’t the only gun free zones, and Libertarians stand on principle.
Candidates have plenty they can do at both the Federal and local level.
Candidates for House of Representatives and US Senate can support getting the Federal Government out of the way by repealing any legislative descendants of the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which was initially over-turned, but has been revived by dubious loopholes based on amazingly creative references to the interstate commerce clause. These candidates will be able to put this forth as being a principled application of libertarian philosophy, which is also expressed in National Platform plank 1.9
“The only legitimate use of force is in defense of individual rights—life, liberty, and justly acquired property—against aggression. This right inheres in the individual, who may agree to be aided by any other individual or group. We affirm the individual right recognized by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, and oppose the prosecution of individuals for exercising their rights of self-defense. Private property owners should be free to establish their own conditions regarding the presence of personal defense weapons on their own property. We oppose all laws at any level of government restricting, registering, or monitoring the ownership, manufacture, or transfer of firearms or ammunition.”
But again, the emphasis needs to be on saving human life. Our principles are demonstrably sound because, when applied most conscientiously, they will have good outcomes. The tragedies we repeatedly see unfolding are not failures of liberty, they are failures of government. In Parkland, Florida this was especially evident. The killer had previous encounters with local law enforcement that showed violent tendencies. He even announced online that he planned such action, and it was reported to the FBI. Scott Peterson, who was in charge of school security, chose personal safety over heroic action. Law enforcement can’t always be there, and there is no guarantee that they will be helpful when they are. The victims are guaranteed to be there, and we can count on them doing their best, because their lives depend on it.
We may have candidates running in a majority of state legislative districts. This is where we can really make an impact. Michigan is a shall-issue Concealed Pistol License (CPL) state, but every CPL has a list of “Prohibited Premises,” printed on the back, which includes schools, colleges, places of worship and large entertainment venues. Libertarian candidates can pledge to amend MCL 28.425o to remove these premises from CLP restrictions, while recognizing the right of specific institutions and venues to establish more restrictive policies. This could work around the existing Federal law because it allows for states to license some persons to be armed at schools for security purposes. These people are licensed. Nothing here precludes a candidate from also supporting constitutional carry policies, or nullification if they wish.
This straightforward change would not only clear the way for more school staff to protect children, but would also allow responsible gun-owners to save lives in other venues. Consider the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. The shooter spent 4 hours killing people. Dozens could have been saved if just one of his victims had a chance to fire a well-placed shot back. Removing the “Prohibited Premises” clause would not change the requirement that armed persons be abstinent of mind-altering drugs while carrying.
Candidates for state office would be able to emphasize that this is an application of libertarian principles which is also expressed in The Libertarian Party of Michigan Platform Section IV 1.
“Law enforcement cannot guarantee individual safety. Self-protection is a personal responsibility. All individuals have the right to defend themselves and to possess the means to do so, as guaranteed by the state constitution Article I, Section 6.”
Since requirements for carrying would now be under the control of local institutions and businesses, local candidates would be able to play a role in supporting standards in local school districts that would allow more people to be able to protect children. While complete openness to all CPL holders is unlikely, policies that would allow some of these people to carry (after careful screening and training), might catch on. In Detroit, for instance, the local police Chief has been receptive to the idea.
We have the moral high ground. Now let liberty save some lives!