Open Letter from John Tate to Senate Judiciary Committee
United States Senate
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on the Constitution,
Civil Rights, and Human Rights
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cruz:
Thank you for holding this hearing on “Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence: Protecting Our Communities While Respecting the Second Amendment.” On behalf of over half a million members of Campaign for Liberty, I appreciate the opportunity to address this issue.
In the wake of December’s tragic loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many Americans have called for new federal laws to prevent further incidents of gun violence. Unfortunately, most of the proposals currently before Congress not only violate the Second Amendment, as well as other parts of the United States Constitution, but they would fail to prevent future mass shootings.
Today, I want to recommend that Congress adopt a policy that would meet the constitutional test and prove effective in protecting schoolchildren from gun violence: full repeal of the 1990 Gun Free School Zones Act and all amendments to it.
Under the Gun Free School Zones Act, it is a federal crime for an individual to have a firearm either in a school or within 1,000 feet of a school. While the legislation does allow for lawful holders of concealed carry permits to possess firearms within a Gun Free School Zone, it makes it a federal crime for anyone other than an on-duty law enforcement officer or school security personnel to discharge a firearm on school premises. As a practical matter, this means that most schools, except for those that can afford to hire professional, full-time security personnel, are left defenseless.
The supporters of the law claimed it would guard school children from gun violence. However, in passing this law, Congress overlooked a crucial fact: mass murderers do not obey “gun-free zone” laws.
In fact, disarming school personnel, except those few specifically designated as “school security,” can encourage deranged and violent individuals to specifically target schools. After all, what better way to ensure one will inflict maximum damage than to target a location where carrying a firearm is a federal crime?
Even if repeal of the Gun Free School Zones Act does not discourage all school shootings, it will still save lives by giving school personnel the ability to defend themselves and the children in their care.
Currently, federal law forces school personnel whose schools do not have full-time security staff to wait helplessly during a crisis until the police arrive. The horror of school shootings is compounded by the knowledge that some of the victims could have been spared had staff members simply been able to access a firearm.
If the Gun Free School Zones Act was effective in curbing violence against our children, one would expect statistics to show school shootings have declined since the law was enacted. Instead, they demonstrate exactly the opposite: before this law was passed, Americans had not experienced a mass shooting in a school since before 1900. Since the second version of the law was passed, there have been 13 such incidents.
The Gun Free School Zones Act in effect today is actually the second version of the law. Congress first passed the act in 1990. In the 1995 case of United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 115 S. Ct. 1624, 131 L. Ed. 2d 626, the Supreme Court held that, contrary to the claims of the law’s backers, the Constitution’s Commerce Clause did not give Congress the power to regulate gun possession in or around schools.
Following the Lopez decision, Congress quickly passed a revised version of the bill, limiting its application to the use of a firearm obtained through interstate or foreign commerce.
Backers of the Gun Free School Zones Act claim this change makes the bill a legitimate exercise of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce. This is nonsense, as the Commerce Clause is intended to create a free trade zone among the states, not to give Congress unfettered regulatory authority over every use of a product made or sold in “interstate commerce.”
It is impossible for the Gun Free School Zones Act to pass constitutional muster. Even if the Gun Free School Zones Act was a legitimate exercise of Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause, it would still be unconstitutional, as it violates the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment clearly prohibits any federal infringement on the right to keep and bear arms.
Legislation making it a federal crime to possess a gun within 1,000 feet of a school is clearly an infringement on the right to keep and bear arms.
Even if the Gun Free School Zones Act did not violate the Second Amendment, it would still fail to be constitutional, as the federal government has no legitimate authority to dictate to local schools how to best ensure the safety of their students. Instead, school safety (like all matters relating to education) is among the many areas left to states, local governments, and individuals. The system of federalism created by the Constitution thus ensures that individual school districts can adopt the school safety polices that best fit their unique needs. This is a much more efficient way of ensuring safety than forcing every school in the nation to comply with federal “one-size-fits-all” rules and regulations.
As an organization dedicated to restoring constitutional government, Campaign for Liberty not only supports full repeal of the Gun Free School Zones Act, but we oppose providing federal funding for school safety officers, as this proposal is also unconstitutional. It is disappointing to see several high-profile defenders of the Second Amendment support expanding a federal role in school safety. It is also disturbing to see these so-called “advocates” of individual liberty support unconstitutional proposals such as expanding background checks and mental health databases. Those who claim to defend the Second Amendment undermine their cause when they support any unconstitutional expansion of federal power.
If Congress is serious about protecting our children and addressing school safety, it will reject calls for new infringements on the Second Amendment that will only satisfy those looking for photo-ops with scary-looking weapons and/or new opportunities to violate the American people’s liberties. Instead, Congress should restore the people’s right to determine for themselves how best to protect their children by repealing the unconstitutional Gun Free School Zones Act.
John F. Tate
Campaign for Liberty