Imagine George Zimmerman Carrying a Gun Into Your Child’s K-12 School, Legally
That prospect is real. Donald Trump has promised to eradicate gun-free zones at schools on day one.
The election of racist/misogynist/xenophobic billionaire Donald Trump as President of the United States last week has sent shock waves around the world, with pundits speculating wildly about what his administration’s priorities will be.
When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was manning Trump’s transition team, they issued a plan for his first 100 days in office. Curiously, this “Contract with American Voters” omitted one of the most ominous promises Trump made during his campaign: Forcing our nation’s K-12 schools to allow guns on their premises.
On at least three occasions, Trump has indicated he wants to repeal the longstanding Gun-Free School Zones Act (GFSZA). A current bill in Congress introduced by a (returning) Texas Republican would do just that.
Trump will be inaugurated on January 20, 2017. He has indicated he wants to repeal the GFSZA on his “first day.” Parents concerned about the welfare of their children in elementary, middle and high school had best act now if they don’t want teachers and concealed handgun permit holders carrying loaded guns into their children’s classrooms.
A Longstanding Law
The federal prohibition on carrying guns into K-12 schools stems from the Gun-Free School Zones Act, which was enacted into law in 1990. The lead sponsor of the act was then-Senator Joe Biden. It passed without any controversy in both chambers of Congress, by voice vote in the Senate and by a vote of 313–1 in the House. The act was signed into law by Republican President George H.W. Bush. It prohibits carrying or discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a public, private, or parochial school, while granting exemptions to: a) Individuals transporting an unloaded gun in a gun-rack on a vehicle, and; b) Concealed handgun permit holders, but only when state law makes it legal for permitees to carry firearms on school grounds.
The GSFZA was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in the 1995 case of United States v. Lopez because the Court determined it was not within the Commerce Clause powers of Congress to mandate gun-free zones in state schools. Congress subsequently amended the act to address this problem by including language about interstate commerce. This revised version of the act has consistently been upheld by federal courts.
The overwhelming majority of K-12 schools in the U.S. are gun-free today, and exceptionally safe. Our schools have rates of violent crime and gun death that are dramatically lower than the nation as a whole. Furthermore, of all youth homicides, less than 2.6% occur at school.
Only nine states in the country currently force their K-12 schools to allow concealed handgun permit holders to carry their firearms on school grounds (AL, AK, AZ, NH, OR, RI, UT, VT, WY).
In January, speaking at a campaign rally in Burlington, Vermont, then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump promised supporters, “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools … My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.”
Trump reiterated this promise at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in May, telling those in attendance, “We’re getting rid of gun-free zones, OK, I can tell you. We’re getting rid of them.” Moments later, NRA executives Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox joined Trump on stage and announced the organization was endorsing him for president.
Trump half-heartedly tried to roll back his comments in a phone interview with CNN later in May, but still admitted he believed that “in some cases, teachers should have guns in classrooms, frankly, because…things that are going on in our schools are unbelievable … In some cases — and a lot of people have made this case — teachers should be able to have guns, trained teachers should be able to have guns in classrooms.” Trump later called CNN back, and added that school resource officers should also be armed in K-12 schools in addition to teachers.
The NRA, of course, is also eager to push more guns into K-12 schools. In fact, that was the primary solution offered by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre following the gruesome mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in which 20 first-graders and six adults were slaughtered. It’s a great way to stimulate business for compact carry pistols made by the gun manufacturers who fund the NRA through its Ring of Freedom program. The more paranoid people carrying handguns on a daily basis, the better for the gun lobby.
Donald Trump and the NRA will have a pliant Republican Congress to work with. There already is a bill in Congress to repeal the GFSZA which was introduced by Texas Republican Randy Weber, who won re-election last week. That legislation currently has 22 co-sponsors.
There’s even a likely legislative vehicle for the repeal of the GFSZA. The NRA’s top federal legislative priority is the National Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (NCCRA), a bill that would force states to allow concealed carry permit holders from other states to carry guns on their streets, regardless of the differences in permitting standards between the states. Under the lowest common denominator standard established by the NCCRA (remember that several states like Utah and Florida allow individuals from out of state to mail-order their permits), dangerous individuals would be allowed to carry a loaded gun in public in all 50 states in this country, and there would be nothing law enforcement could do about it.
The NCCRA would be the perfect vehicle for amendments to expand the carrying of guns to sensitive public places. The principle behind the NCCRA and Trump’s guns in school proposal is essentially the same: Forcing states to allow gun-toting against the will of their elected officials and residents.
If the incoming Republican Congress attempted to mandate that schools allow guns, we would almost certainly see legal challenges concerning the extent of the federal government’s powers under the Commerce Clause. But Congress has other ways to make the states act. Using their tax-and-spending powers, this new Congress could condition federal aid to schools based on whether they allow guns in K-12 schools. In an era of tremendous economic uncertainty, that would have the practical effect of forcing many schools to allow guns on their premises.
Right now, the only thing standing in the way of Republicans fulfilling Trump’s promise is the Senate filibuster, which might not be around much longer.
The notion that concealed handgun permit holders have to be “law-abiding” is a misnomer. Very often, applicants in Shall Issue states obtain permits despite lengthy histories of violence involving misdemeanor convictions (including felony offenses that are pleaded down), prior domestic abuse restraining orders, substance abuse, DUIs, mental illness, etc.
The Violence Policy Center maintains a database of murders committed by concealed carry permit holders and it is deeply disturbing. By searching press clippings they have been able to verify 29 mass shootings (defined as the killing of three or more people in one incident, not including the shooter) committed by concealed handgun permit holders since May 2007. During that period, at least 885 total people were killed by permit holders in homicides, murder-suicides and mass shootings. VPC’s numbers are low-end estimates because they rely on media accounts and reporters don’t always find out whether offenders have carry permits (many states make it difficult to obtain that information at the behest of the NRA).
The classic example of a dangerous concealed carry permit holder is George Zimmerman. Prior to ever stalking and killing Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman had a lengthy history of violence that included assaulting a police officer in a bar and domestic abuse. Since being acquitted of killing Martin, Zimmerman has been the target of one domestic violence call after another, and a host of other bizarre incidents.
Keep in mind, too, that there are now ten states that allow individuals to carry concealed handguns in public with no permit, background check, or training: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho (residents only), Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri (takes effect January 1, 2017), Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming (residents only). That is the policy that the NRA and the rest of the pro-gun movement are now pushing in states across the country.
It is no exaggeration to say that there could soon be lightly screened individuals — many with a history of violence — carrying guns into your children’s K-12 schools.
Keeping Schools Safe
The NRA has spent the last 30 years pushing concealed handguns into every nook and cranny of public space possible in the United States. They endorsed a presidential candidate who promised to eliminate gun-free zones around our K-12 schools on day one of his administration.
Concerned students, parents and citizens — we don’t have time to wait.
Contact your Members of Congress through the U.S. Capitol Hotline at (202) 224–3121 and demand they vote NO on any and all bills/amendments that would allow the carrying of guns in K-12 schools.
Reach out to organizations that represent teachers and school administrators like the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers and make sure they are aware of this threat.
Talk to the principals and staff at your K-12 schools. Make sure they understand exactly what Trump has promised so their voices can be heard in this debate.
It will be a tough battle, but voices of reason still have every opportunity to prevail and keep our schools safe.