Editorials

Eliminating gun-free zones not a solution to mass murder

A growing memorial of flowers line the grass in the Seneff Arts Plaza in downtown Orlando, to honor those killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
A growing memorial of flowers line the grass in the Seneff Arts Plaza in downtown Orlando, to honor those killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. emichot@miamiherald.com

One of the central points in our national debate about gun control that surfaces in the aftermath of heinous massacres is the idea that most firearm-free zones should be eliminated. The reasoning is weak — that good guys bearing arms would defeat a bad guy bent on mass murder by shooting him. As for bars, that dangerous assumption would allow weaponry in the hands of alcohol drinkers whose judgment — and aim — would be highly questionable. Collateral damage, even deaths, would be a possibility that cannot be discounted.

Once again, Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, advanced that position within days of the Orlando gay nightclub terror that took 49 lives in the worst mass shooting in modern American history. In a statement released Monday, the Florida legislator wrote: “Did the law preventing guns in bars prevent the terrorist from walking into a nightclub and killing 49 people? No, it only prevented law abiding citizens from defending themselves and made the location a target.”

Yet there was someone there armed, a veteran Orlando police officer working security for Pulse nightclub that evening. He traded gunshots with Omar Mateen near the club’s entrance. But he was outgunned as Mateen was heavily armed, with a .223 caliber AR type rifle and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Two other Orlando officers arrived just a couple minutes later and also engaged Mateen in a hail of gunfire. They didn’t stop the madman, either.

Would terrified civilians hit a target that highly trained officers missed?

“I say end gun free zones and allow law abiding citizens to defend themselves,” Steube further stated. That sounds reasonable until other factors come into play. Like bars, schools, movie theaters, hospitals.

Does any interpretation of the Second Amendment — those words being: 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 — grant the right to carry firearms anywhere and everywhere?

During the founding of this country, states regulated guns, and militia weapons were commonly registered on government rolls. History shows the Second Amendment originally applied only to the federal government, letting states regulate weapons.

Just this week, on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide a Second Amendment objection to a Connecticut ban on certain semi-automatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. The state adopted the ban in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School carnage that took the lives of 20 children and six school staff members.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to let stand Connecticut’s assault weapons restrictions is just the latest indication that Courts almost universally recognize that common sense life-saving gun laws are fully compatible with the Second Amendment, “ said Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun violence.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in the 2008 Heller decision, wrote the Second Amendment “is not unlimited. … (Nothing) in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms. … (We) also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. … The sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’”

Year after year, survey after survey, the majority of the American people — both liberal and conservative politically — support sensible gun laws. Gallup, January 2016, answering a question about the country’s law or policies on guns: somewhat dissatisfied, 24 percent; very dissatisfied, 38 percent. Pew Research Center, August 2015, on favoring requiring private gun sales and gun show purchases to be subjected to background checks, 85 percent of the population — 79 percent Republicans, 88 percent Democrats.

Americans desire sensible gun controls. Opening up gun-free zones is not one. Congress — and Tallahassee — should answer the call coming from the majority of citizens.

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