Considering guns, let’s ask the right questions

When you send your kids to school, do you want them to be safe? Do you think that their safety is the responsibility of the school staff? Of course you do! Nobody would deny this.

Now, let’s go a little deeper. How much responsibility do you expect from the teachers? You expect them to give up some convenience to maintain safe procedures. You also expect them to stay alert for physical attacks upon your child and to intervene promptly. Teachers do this every day, and schools that fail to do this are likely to get sued — and rightly so. 

But how far does this responsibility go? If protecting your child from a bully meant that a teacher risked getting punched or kicked herself, would you still want her to intervene? And as the threat of danger increases, what then? At what point would a thoughtful parent say, “Go ahead and let my child get beat up. You have to look out for yourself”? 

Jesus once talked about the hireling who sees the wolf coming and flees because he cares nothing for the sheep. But the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. When I think about the teachers in our school district, I do not know a one of them who would act like a hireling. 

Even though I have no right to command that any teacher protect my kids at the risk of her own life, I have every confidence that this would be their instinct — and their prayer. They want to sacrifice themselves for the good of our children. They prove it every single day.

That’s all part of the principle of in loci parentis. Teachers daily act “in the place of parents.” When you send your kids to school, you are entrusting other adults with the job of acting like parents toward your kids for the time that they are there. And this job comes with whatever rights and responsibilities are needed to get the job done.

It is only against this backdrop that we can really address the question posed on the front page of last Friday’s Uinta County Herald: “Should guns be allowed in schools?” (published June 23). It is interesting how the question is framed. 

A question like this makes no reference to people at all. Instead of naming teachers and children, it talks only about inanimate objects. Instead of considering the full range of possible circumstances, it assumes one unspoken assumption: that nobody will ever do what is not allowed.

We don’t ever write laws based on the assumption that people will never do what is not allowed. Rather, we write laws specifically to cover those times when people do what’s not allowed. And the one thing that we all agree on — the only reason we are talking about guns at all — is that we don’t ever want to allow somebody to come into our schools and shoot our children.

So, what exactly, is the school board debating? Are they proposing that we buy metal detectors and hire airport security to screen every teacher, student, and parent who enters the school for guns? Or are we debating an after-the-fact policy which would fine a person days and weeks after they have already brought a gun into school? Only the first would prevent a school shooting. The second does not.

Every single school shooting that we have ever seen happened in a school that had after-the-fact policies in place. These policies make law-abiding citizens reluctant to remain fully prepared to stop evil, but they do nothing to prevent people with evil intent from carrying out their murderous plans. 

So, unless the school board wishes to shoulder the cost of airport-level security at every one of Uinta County’s schools, we are back to the real question. If someone does bring a gun into school for the purpose of murder, is there a better way to prevent harm than to allow the men and women whom we entrust with the care of our children to bring the tools to school that would help them do the stop it?

If we are already hoping that they will sacrifice themselves for our children, isn’t it only human to permit them the tools to level the playing field and to be successful? If we don’t, who becomes responsible for their lives and the lives of our children? 

There is also a constitutional question here. Ever since the passage of the 14th Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Bill of Rights applies not only to the federal government but to the states as well. 

This is called the doctrine of “incorporation.” In the 2010 case McDonald v. the City of Chicago the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly said that since the United States government is forbidden from infringing on the right of its citizens “to keep and to bear arms,” so is the state and all its subsidiaries. 

School districts are branches of the state government, so the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States applies to them. The new state law (HB 194) that has raised this question for our school board seems to contain an internal inconsistency that will be litigated at some point in the future. If it is illegal for the State of Wyoming to infringe on Second Amendment rights, why would we think that the state can allow its school districts to infringe on these same rights?

Constitutional questions aside, we should consider the question practically as well. We have learned from bitter experience that the threat of fines cannot prevent a Columbine or Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook from happening. We have also learned that the threat of having even one armed person in the building can. 

It may be that not a single teacher in all of Uinta County would want to carry a concealed weapon into his or her classroom. That is their right. But the mere threat that one of the teachers might have a weapon makes it virtually impossible for an Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold or Adam Lanza to plan their evil. That is a far greater deterrent than all the fines in the world.

Our neighboring state of Utah has allowed concealed carry in schools for 17 years. In all these years, not one single child or teacher has been attacked by a gun-wielding attacker, nor has one of these concealed carriers ever threatened another student or teacher. 

We trust our teachers with the lives and well-being of our children every day. We even expect them to protect our children with the same selfless love that we do. Entrusting them with the tools to carry out this high calling is the right thing to do.

Jonathan Lange has a heart for our state and community. Locally, he has raised his family and served as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Evanston and St. Paul’s in Kemmerer for two decades. Statewide, he leads the Wyoming Pastors Network in advocating for the traditional church in the public square.


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