By Frank Groth, Campbell County
Gideon J. Tucker, an eminent attorney, newspaperman and politician of the 19th century once wrote; “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” While Mr. Tucker hailed from New York he could just as easily have had Wyoming on his mind given the latest dustup concerning firearms reported in articles on February 3rd.
I am as big a champion of the right to self-defense as anyone and I believe that most government spaces should be opened to allow those who chose to be able to defend themselves have the means to do so. I understand Senator Biteman’s comments on the woman in the gallery who livened up that day’s session. In our modern age we all need to pay attention to people when “they don’t look right”, to avoid a confrontation if at all possible.
But the senator’s comments illustrate part of why the individual right to self-defense remains relevant no matter how far our situation and society advances. The capitol has a dedicated staff of peace officers assigned to it equipped and trained, I am sure, to protect the building and provide for the safety of the legislators, staff and visitors.
The problem is that, like all peace officers, they cannot be everywhere. The simple fact that when danger, or the threat of it, can happen in seconds, the police are just minutes away is as true in the halls of the capitol as it is on my quiet street in Campbell County.
Granted that the senator seemed to be engaging in a bit of hyperbole to make his point, politicians will do that, but the fact of the matter remains that if someone did act out in the gallery the legislators would be on their own, just like the rest of us, for probably at least a couple of minutes. And a lot of bad things can happen in just a couple of minutes.
On the distaff side of the argument the hyperbole of Moms Demand Action is nothing more than an appeal to emotion. Such appeals were a logical fallacy when I went to college, and still are even when couched in the language that they so often use to soften their talking points.
To begin with, if one follows the logic of the Moms Demand Action argument, there is an assumption on their part that there is no such thing as a law abiding gun owner. Rhetorically, in my opinion, they seem to believe that anyone who chooses to own a firearm for any lawful purpose is just a criminal, or a crazy, who has not yet acted out. A ticking time bomb, so to speak.
My own experience as a peace officer runs completely opposite to this argument. Not once in my career did I ever fear, or have reason to fear, a law abiding person with a firearm. Law abiding people, surprise, obey the law so why should I, as a peace officer fear them?
Criminal behavior or people with mental health issues acting out are, by definition, not law abiding people. We must, and do, deal with them differently based on the context of the interaction. Context is important in all things, but it is of particular importance in this discussion and the advocates of gun control never seem to get the context right.
Second, a majority of “mass shootings” take place in what are identified as gun free zones. There is a large and growing body of evidence from such events, if one cared to study it, which shows that the sooner the criminal actor is met with resistance, the number of victims is reduced. It is also worth noting that an abundance of data shows that the states with the most draconian gun laws have the highest instances of “mass shootings”.
The idea of more local control noted in the committee testimony sounds good, but in practice it leads to a confusing patchwork of rules and regulations that eventually become impossible for the average person to adhere to. State pre-emption of weapon and self-defense law is the best idea, and is the most respectful of the core right, in my opinion. Publicly owned facilities should be the same as any public street or sidewalk. That said, there are some reasonable carve outs for restrictions that make some sense.
The actual chambers of legislative bodies, county commissions and city councils when in session is what I would consider a reasonable restriction. Although I am sure Senator Biteman and some of his colleagues would want to create an exemption for themselves… politicians do that nearly as often as they engage in hyperbole. Courtrooms and jails, the latter two for obvious reasons, should remain gun free in my opinion.
I would also continue to allow school boards to make their own choices for their campuses. Schools are special places, without question, and our children are our most precious commodity and must be protected. But investing local boards with that continued authority must come with the proviso that if a district declares their campuses to be gun free that the board, and its members individually, become legally responsible to provide for the safety of all persons on their premises.
Failure, or willful inaction as was seen in last year’s Uvalde incident, to keep campuses safe should open them to civil action for monetary damages in the event of an attack on their school which armed, trained, staff or even a visiting parent lawfully carrying concealed, might otherwise have interdicted.
Private property rights, of course, must also always take precedence. Business and property owners should always have the right to decide whether to allow weapons on their premises. But, if they choose to ban weapons, they must be prepared to provide expressly for the safety of all on their premise under pain of civil action for failure.
One of the first things I learned as a rookie peace officer was that the use and carry of firearms comes with great responsibility. That is also the very first lesson I present as a trainer. I have found that most people who own, use and carry firearms do so responsibly and follow the law.
For those who don’t there are, of course, remedies. And having the means at hand to defend one’s self from those who don’t is itself a perfectly valid remedy.
Frank Groth is a business analyst for a tech company, former peace officer and a firearms trainer living in Campbell County.