Nuclear Bombs for Everyone: School Shootings, the 2nd Amendment, and School Negligence Lawsuits
Today, another school shooting left me, my family, friends, and neighbors, and our nation with feelings of outrage and grief. Our hearts feel much sadness and empathy for the youngsters, adults, and their families who were killed today by the gunman.
As soon as our reeling minds start to focus on why this tragedy happened and how we could try to prevent it from happening again, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut today, along with similar school shootings throughout the country over the last decade including the famous 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Columbine, Colorado, raises questions for us about gun control laws in the face of the US Constitution's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. It also brings to mind the distinct possibility of successful negligence lawsuits directed at the victimized public and private schools for their arguable duty and failure to safeguard their children, staff, and faculty with relatively inexpensive, widely available, and modern security features such as locking gates and locking classroom doors, school-wide video cameras, electronic student and staff tracking chips set in student ID cards or staff fobs, private armed security guards on campus, and entryway metal detectors, particularly given the myriad school shootings and general violence that plagues all sorts of schools these days.
What kind of world are we living in? This question can only be rhetorical when the news media reminds us on days like this of the inevitable answer: this kind of world. And so we must use our minds to heal.
There are those who cite statistics about the dangers of gun ownership, telling us we are more likely to be killed by our own guns than by another. Then there are those on the other side who give us statistics about how much safer are States that allow concealed gun carry by their residents, and argue that had there been one or more well-trained teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary with a concealed gun in their hip, there would have been far fewer deaths today.
It is telling that the Second Amendment comes directly after the First Amendment in our Constitution's Bill of Rights, so important it was to the Founding Fathers in their effort to ensure the freedoms expressed in the First Amendment, namely freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. The Second Amendment states: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Our nation was created out of the Revolutionary War. The American colonists took arms against the oppression of the British empire. Our Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment into our Constitution, without which the Constitution would not have been approved by the States, to make sure that the American people would never again be subjected to the tyranny of its own oppressive governmental leaders and national military forces.
The Second Amendment has been substantially limited by various statutes and Supreme Court case law such that it no longer gives Americans the ability to successfully revolt against its own Government should it become a tyrannical one. Yet one could argue that the Second Amendment is largely symbolic in that if our Government ever become an oppressive dictatorship, causing the People the urge to topple it via a militant revolution, it would make no difference at all whether there was a Constitutional right supporting such foment.
A fundamentalist and literal reading of the Second Amendment goes something like this: The spirit and letter of the Second Amendment tells us that we have the right to own and carry arms sufficient to overthrow our government if it ever becomes tyrannical. By using the word "arms", the Second Amendment does not limit the type of weapons we may own and carry, but rather suggests that such "arms" may be kept and borne by us as may be necessary to overthrow a despotic regime of our own government, should that ever come to pass. So if our government possesses tanks and war planes, one could argue that the Second Amendment would also allow us to possess the same. Since our government possesses nuclear bombs, well to make sure that it does not lord them over us, we too should possess the same: Nuclear bombs for everyone! Of course, this is ridiculous. Thus fails the slippery slope argument that is based on the theory that the Second Amendment permits everyone to carry whatever arms as would be necessary to overthrow our government, should it ever become tyrannical.
Yet it is important to consider this superficial reading of the Second Amendment, as such interpretations become more popular at times like these. The more polemic factions of the pro-gun lobby have a way of turning these national tragedies into opportunities for them to support their desires to purchase all sorts of aggressive weapons based on a glossy reading of the Second Amendment: a reading that fails to intelligently consider where such an interpretation would inevitably lead us.
A more moderate reading of the Second Amendment's language suggests that the American people may own and carry some type of arms so long as we are well-trained to use them safely and properly, so long as we weed out people who should not be permitted to own guns due to serious defects of character or other relevant issues, and so long as this right does not degrade our society into one of militant chaos, such that the Amendment itself refers explicitly to the necessity of a "well regulated militia" rather than seeking to foment wild townsfolk carrying pitchforks and Uzi's.
Given the level of violence we see in our society, especially as exemplified by mass acts of senseless terror such as the school shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary, one could postulate that our laws should be more strict and discerning about who can buy, possess, use, and/or carry arms. True: would-be criminals can illegally purchase or steal guns with relative ease, while under the current regime innocent and law-abiding people are often not permitted to carry guns in public and thus are just sitting ducks waiting for a crazed gun-wielding criminal to enter their workplace or public venue with evil intent.
It is clear to me that we need to be far more selective about who we permit to purchase guns (perhaps requiring higher standards of intelligence, purpose, character, and training); we need to severely crack down on illegal gun ownership and lax gun sales venues; and we need more armed, well-trained, and intelligent security personnel in our public and private schools, workplaces, and other venues.
We need a far greater presence of high-quality public and private police forces among us to help protect us from criminals - at work, at school, in the theater, on the streets, in the mall, and at the grocery store. Yet this is a very expensive and thus possibly impractical solution. A truly enormous security force would be required to sufficiently safeguard us at all times, after all we are a nation of about 300 million people and just as many guns. And we already hear enough horrifying news reports about how even the best trained public and private police forces abuse their powers in all sorts of ugly and brutal ways, neglect their duties in rich and poor neighborhoods alike, and fail to safeguard us from devastating crimes even when they're on patrol in our immediate areas.
Thus we also need to allow far more of us to purchase and carry guns in public by carefully selecting, training, and licensing people who apply for gun-carry permits. Certainly, we might trust a few well-trained and well-selected security personnel to carry guns in our schools, and we might trust similarly vetted security personnel to carry guns in our workplaces and other public venues at least as much as we trust our society's public police officers. By carrying guns, private persons are not being given the jobs of police officers; they are taking on the responsibility of defending themselves and hopefully protecting us in the event that we are targeted by the next gun-toting psychopath.