State Rep. James McConnell: No more gun-free zones

For the Monitor
Saturday, March 03, 2018

The tragic shootings in Parkland, Fla., exposed a number of fallacies about our ability to protect schools that should have been obvious all along. This experience, in a more compelling manner than previous shootings, makes clear that our national strategy to make schools safer has failed spectacularly.

Law enforcement failed across the board. Both the FBI and Broward County Sheriff’s Office failed to act on repeated warnings that Nikolas Cruz would do precisely what he did. In addition, sheriff’s deputies waited outside the building until Cruz laid down his weapon and escaped with the surviving students. One of the deputies waiting outside was assigned to the school and left the building when the shooting started. There was nothing in their performance that suggests law enforcement’s collective failure will not be repeated elsewhere.

In a CNN interview after the shooting, for example, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel claimed that he has provided “amazing leadership” in his five years in office.

The only heroism in evidence, at any level, was inside the building. As in previous shootings, the heroic actions were taken by those on the scene when the shooting began.

Gun-free zones have proven a magnet for what might be described as domestic terrorism. The certain knowledge that an assailant will not be met with deadly force – or in the event there is a security guard on duty that he or she can likely be surprised and eliminated – is an obvious invitation to those seeking to cause harm.

While every aspect of this tragedy is alarming, the most disturbing possibility is that organized terrorists may now draw the conclusion that almost every school in the country is a target for a devastating terrorist attack, or multiple attacks, reminiscent in scale and impact of the attack on the World Trade Center.

To prevent such a possibility it is necessary to ensure schools are no longer gun-free zones.

School employees who choose to carry concealed weapons should be permitted to do so. None of the students or other employees have to know any weapons are in the building, and it is possible that in some schools no employees will have them. The fact that weapons will likely be present will provide a powerful deterrent to any terrorist thinking about attacking a school. In the event a shooting incident does occur, armed school employees will likely be on the scene and have the ability to end it quickly – a possibility that does not exist now. Even if only one school employee is armed, the means to quickly end the shooting spree will be present. As there will be no way of knowing who is armed, the odds are against the terrorists attacking the armed employees first.

Absent the changes suggested, school shootings will almost certainly continue, and it seems only a question of time before organized terrorists take devastating advantage of the gun-free zone policy, which has proven to be no protection at all.

(James W. McConnell of North Swanzey represents Cheshire District 12 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)