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The "guns-under-any-circumstances" crowd is making a strategic mistake

Sep 24, 2015

Yesterday, a circuit judge in Washtenaw County struck a blow for common sense and sanity by ruling that Ann Arbor public schools could ban guns in their buildings.

That immediately provoked a furious reaction from those who think guns more important than anything else, including the lives and well-being of children.

The attorney for a group called Michigan Gun Owners fairly sneered, “I think the judge decided to ignore state law.”

He added that they would appeal.

The guns-under-any-circumstances folks expect to win that appeal, and they may, at least in the early stages. Last month, a judge in Genesee County ruled that a father can openly carry his pistol inside his daughter’s elementary school.

Three years ago, the Michigan Court of Appeals, in a split decision, ruled that libraries cannot ban the open carry of weapons.

Morally, these rulings are about as awful, in my view, as the Dred Scott decision, and I expect society will eventually realize that. But even if not, the gun worshipers are missing something, and are making a strategic mistake which may eventually result in a United States Supreme Court decision they won’t like.

Because schools can, in fact, legally ban guns. Communities can also ban dangerous and unusual weapons. Every indication is that if the current U.S. Supreme Court got the Ann Arbor case, or the one from Clio in Genesee County, the justices would rule on behalf of the schools, not those who want to bring guns into them.

My source for that is the best one possible: Justice Antonin Scalia, the man who wrote the majority opinion in District of Columbia vs. Heller seven years ago, the first time the high court ruled that the Second Amendment does in fact establish an individual citizen’s right to bear arms.

That was anything but a unanimous decision; the vote was five to four, the same as two years later in a similar case, McDonald v. Chicago.

But in the first case, Justice Scalia wrote, “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

Scalia also wrote “we also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.” That is the right to ban “the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

Well, you could certainly argue that any weapon is dangerous and unusual in a third-grade classroom.

Those on the side of all guns, all the time, do have one argument: Michigan does not expressly ban the open carry of weapons in schools, though it does in day care centers.

But you could certainly make the case that a school is very much like a day care center.

The gun lobby seems to have lost all perspective, but there are signs that people are getting exasperated with bad behavior and guns.

This spring, a suburban Detroit school was repeatedly locked down after a provocateur marched around it and up to the door with a loaded rifle.

The Supreme Court has clearly indicated society can do much more to regulate guns than we do now. I have a hunch we may be finally about to start.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.