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U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has introduced bill HR 2613 to repeal the federal Gun Free School Zone Act.
While many in the general public and the gun prohibition community will balk and ask questions like, “What does anyone need with a gun at a school?” knowledgeable rights supporters are wondering why it has taken so long.
The Gun Free School Zone Act, or GFSZA for short, was originally passed by Congress back in 1990, but in 1995 the Supreme Court voided the law, ruling it (quite correctly) to be an unconstitutional overreach of federal power. Congress quickly passed a revised version of the act that included the stipulation that the firearm had, “moved in or that otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce.” With this addition Congress supposedly provided constitutional authority for their actions and, while the Supreme Court has not revisited the issue, several Appeals Courts have upheld convictions under the new language.
The GFSZA is one of those feel-good laws that so often pass in the wake of a tragedy – the Stockton, Calif., schoolyard shooting, in this case – but that do nothing to address the problem, instead leaving a wake of unintended consequences. The GFSZA did nothing to prevent the rash of school shootings that plagued the nation in the 1990s.
Does anyone honestly believe that the Columbine murderers were deterred in the slightest by the law against bringing guns within 1,000 feet of a school? Could the police have somehow been magically aware of the illegal presence of the firearms and been able to interdict the weapons before the murderers had the opportunity to start their killing spree? Unlikely. But a gun owner pulled over for a traffic violation who is carrying a gun in the car in an otherwise lawful manner could be charged with a federal felony (5 years and $5,000) if he happens to be within the mythical Gun Free School Zone.
The federal law prohibits anyone from being in possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of any accredited school or daycare center. One thousand feet is almost 3 city blocks, and the zone begins at the edge of school property, not the door of the school. While the law does make exceptions for residents within the zone and anyone licensed by the state to possess firearms, it makes no exception for states that do not require a license to possess a gun.
What’s more, the GFSZA does not recognize licenses issued in other states. I began regularly carrying a gun over 25 years ago while I was working at a gun store and attending college after I got out of the Army. I currently have carry permits from both Virginia and Utah, which together made it legal for me to carry a concealed firearm in 34 states when I was a legal resident of Virginia. Now I live in Arizona, which does not require any sort of license to carry a gun openly or concealed upon your person or in your vehicle. Even though Arizona recognizes both my Utah and my Virginia permits and the state requires no permit at all for lawful carry, I could be committing a federal offence virtually every time I leave my home with a loaded firearm because there are schools along almost every route out of my neighborhood.
There is no question that the GFSZA is bad law. It violates the limits on federal authority in the Constitution. It infringes on citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
And it doesn’t do anything to reduce crime.
It’s ridiculous that this bad law hasn’t been repealed long before now. Unfortunately the odds are not very good that it will be repealed in this congress. While Ron Paul has long been one of the staunchest supporters of the Second Amendment in Congress, his legislation rarely goes anywhere.
Dr. Paul routinely puts forward some of the best pro-rights legislation each congressional session, but he routinely bumps into two serious problems. The first problem is that his legislation tends to be aggressive. When Ron Paul sees something that’s unconstitutional, he tends to go after the whole enchilada. He’s not big on incrementalism, while most other politicians are all about baby steps and compromise.
The other problem is that Paul’s not in with the “in” crowd. He often deviates from the party line when he feels that Republicans are straying from the constitutional straight and narrow. That principled commitment has also put Paul at odds with the National Rifle Association on issues such as the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which he felt was unconstitutional.
I fear Dr. Paul’s bill to repeal the GFSZA is running head-on into both of those problems. Politicians are terrified of any suggestion that they’re not “for the children,” and the Republicans and NRA are not inclined to work on something that makes Paul look good after he’s not supported them.
The only thing that can give this bill legs is a groundswell of grassroots support demanding that representatives sign on as cosponsors and work for passage. That means that, as usual, it’s up to you and me. Tell Congress you want them to obey the Constitution, support HR 2613, and repeal the Gun Free School Zone Act.