The question in the title relates to the idea raised by a number of YouTube users that campus gun bans violated their individual right to self-defence. The constitutional debate around the second amendment due to the Supreme Court’s ‘Heller’ case was briefly discussed in the post published on the 27th July 2015. This blog will return to this, advancing the argument about the ‘individual rights’ interpretation of the second amendment being entrenched in the notion of concealed carry on campus and self-defence.
To begin with, the Supreme Court ruling ‘Heller versus the District of Columbia’ passed in 2008 centred on an appeal by Dick Heller, a police officer who wanted to keep a handgun in his home for self-defence but was unable to do so due to a ban implemented in the District of Columbia following a sharp increase in gun crime in the 1970s. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled 5-4 that ‘the handgun ban violates the second amendment,’ with the five acceding judges maintaining it protected ‘an individual right to possess a firearm…for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home.’ The ruling, therefore, favours the ‘individual rights paradigm’ that the constitution circumscribes the rights of individual citizens to own firearms for self-defence; it has subsequently led to debates about whether other bans on owning and carrying guns ‘violate’ the second amendment. This then made its way into the concealed carry on campus debate, with the interest group Students for Concealed Carry maintaining that the concealed carry ban violated state-level legislation, the ‘Colorado Concealed Carry Act,’ and the state constitution’s right to self-defence. As it transpired, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favour of Student for Concealed Carry and this led to universities in Colorado allowing concealed carry on campuses.
A number of commentators on YouTube drew upon similar lines of argument, claiming that firearm ban on college and university campuses violated their constitutional rights and were denying them a chance to defend themselves. One YouTube user compared carrying firearms to having fire extinguishers in classrooms: a safety precaution in case an emergency was to transpire. These are examples of ‘dogmatic thinking,’ seeking to reinforce current ideological stances that the purpose of the second amendment is to provide protection against threats. (1) To support their argument, a handful of users referred to the Supreme Court ‘Heller’ ruling. Missing from YouTube discussions, however, is the fact that the ruling mandated that bans in ‘sensitive places’ like educational institutions still apply. Further to this, as discussed in the last blog post, the idea of guns on campus is unsettling for a number of YouTube users — the right to be safe is also another aspect of the constitution and something which must also be considered in all debates around this topic.
[Results from YouTube analyses and further reading about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ‘Heller’ case informed the writing of this post. The next blog will completely wrap up this topic by critically assessing the idea that carrying concealed firearms will allow individuals to defend themselves and others against school shooters and other threats.]
- Lane, R. E. (1966) ‘The Decline of Politics and Ideology in a Knowledgeable Society.’ American Sociological Review 31 (5), 649-662.
In the blog published on the 30th April 2014, the impact of the Sandy Hook school shooting (2012) on provoking calls to tighten up gun legislation in the United States was deliberated. On the other hand, it also led to legislative proposals in twelve states to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in elementary, middle and high schools. The rationale behind this ‘arming teachers’ movement by those promoting it is that it would allow teachers to defend against future school shooters, preventing one occurring through deterrence or limiting the death toll if one should transpire. A small town in Texas, Harrold, trained a number of teachers and allow them to carry concealed weapons, purporting that this will be a safer solution than a uniformed security guard, given the identities of the armed teachers will be hidden.
Markedly, the emergence of this is relative to a particular social and historical context. Following the Columbine school shooting, there were only sporadic mentions of arming teachers, which were quickly dismissed. Following the Sandy Hook shooting, however, it seems this issue has begun to be accepted as a viable solution to the problem of school shootings. Analysing YouTube videos on this topic finds that some users blamed the high death toll of the Sandy Hook shooting (six educators and twenty children) on the ban on concealed carry at the elementary school, claiming that an armed teacher could have neutralised the shooter; and, henceforth, that allowing teachers to be armed in schools would negate any future school shootings. This policy response is part of the legacy of fear discussed in an earlier blog and draws upon a neoliberal interpretation of self-defence, where ‘individual responsibility,’ as encompassed by the armed teachers, is paramount.
Despite its straightforward premise of armed teachers prevent school shootings, this issue is a bit more complicated in reality and likely to polarise the American public. Although some parents may feel safer knowing teachers at their children’s schools are armed, it could have the opposite effect on others. There may be teachers, who will feel safer knowing they are carrying weapons; whilst others could be overwhelmed at the onus for saving students and possibly having to shoot one (most school shooters are internal attackers) being put on them. Additionally, an insurance attorney speaking at ‘The Briefings’ in summer 2013, outlined the possible general liability insurance problems associated with arming teachers, due to the possibility of accidental discharge or students stealing the guns. He also maintained that the parameters for self-defence need to be clarified for armed teachers: should teachers use guns to break up physical fights between students or would it be limited to incidents involving weapons; would it also apply off school grounds, such as field trips, sports games at neighbouring schools; is there a possibility the teacher would be held liable if they failed to act in a situation and someone was wounded or killed. There is also the issue of the Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010) Supreme Court rulings, which stipulated restrictions on concealed carry of firearms should still apply to ‘sensitive places’ like schools. Any future Supreme Court rulings centring on this issue should define the parameters of ‘sensitive places,’ so the issue is clear for both supporters and opponents of arming teachers.
[The findings for this blog were taken from research conducted on social media, background reading and the insurance attorney’s presentation at ‘The Briefings.’ Special thanks go to the organisers of ‘The Briefings.’ ]