Donald Trump attended the annual NRA Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. The local news carried pictures of rain and record crowds, three hour waits to get into the meeting room, thousands of attendees, and traffic snarled as people overflowed the Kentucky Expo capacities. I saw lines stretching for a quarter mile or more. The local press described the crowds waiting to register for the NRA events as even bigger, but they were moving faster. At the Leadership forum, before Trump spoke, a polished NRA VP Chris Cox made the announcement: The NRA is endorsing Donald Trump for President! It was not unexpected . . .
There have been elections when the NRA did not endorse a presidential candidate. This year the choice is much clearer than any election in recent memory. Hillary Clinton has said that the Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment. Donald Trump says the Second Amendment must be cherished and protected; and he gives specifics.
Donald Trump came on stage. He was pleased and gratified with the endorsement. I believe he had hoped for an endorsement, but did not know exactly when it would come. He told the crowd, referring to Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox in the NRA leadership: “I want Wayne and Chris to know – I will not let you down.” He reiterated his policy paper on the Second Amendment. And he made this statement: “We are going to get rid of gun free zones. I am telling you that.”
Gun free zones have become a major tactic of anti Second Amendment activists to make carrying a gun for legal purposes impractical and legally dangerous. Gun free zones are designed to spread like smallpox, and eventually prevent most people from carrying guns most places. As John Lott has shown, spree killers who plan mass murders in public spaces are attracted to gun free zones.
The most pernicious and dangerous of the “gun free zone” laws is the Federal Gun Free School Zone act. It criminalizes the carry of guns in wide swaths of territory far from any actual school. The boundaries are not marked, and infractions are felonies. From crimeresearch.org:
The problem is that the Federal Gun Free School Zone Act prohibits firearms of any kind within 1,000 feet of a school ground, and not the center of the school, but the edge of the property. “School” is defined as K-12 and includes public schools, private schools, parochial schools, and in some places possibly home schools. Idaho lets you carry in these school zones if you have a concealed handgun permit, but without a permit you could face a 5 year prison term.
The original act was struck down as unconstitutional in 1995, in U.S. v. Lopez. Bill Clinton immediately and emotionally demanded that a slightly modified law be passed again. He threatened to keep legislators in Washington, D.C. and away from their districts during the 1996 election cycle, until they passed the new law.
The law was passed September 30, 1996, and become the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1997. Prosecutions under the law have been sparse. Observers believe that federal prosecutors fear to bring a case that could subject the act to another Supreme Court ruling. That might change with the absence of Justice Scalia.
A separate federal law, the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, provides incentives for schools themselves to be gun free zones.
In U.S. v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that schools were “sensitive places” where the government could restrict the exercise of the Second Amendment. It did not say that 1,000 foot zones around Schools were “sensitive” places. No one knows why schools were included as “sensitive.” Governmental bans on the carry or possession of guns in schools are neither historically long standing or logically reasonable. The apparent rational for bans on guns in schools is to teach students that guns are bad and the government can ban them.
A Trump administration would have to obtain congressional support to repeal the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1997. It could push hard for congressional repeal of the Act. It could unilaterally state that the law violates both the Second and Tenth Amendments. It could state that it will not prosecute under the Act, setting a moral example for the rest of the country.
A Trump administration could replace Justice Scalia with another judge who would uphold the Constitution as written, rather than treat it as a malleable document that effectively binds no one. It could weakly prosecute a test case to bring the act into the courts under the most favorable conditions, hoping for a repeat of U.S. v Lopez, citing the Second and Tenth Amendments, as well as the commerce clause.
Such test cases have been a favorite tactic of “progressives”. It was used by the Franklin Roosevelt administration to obtain the muddy results in U.S. v. Miller. The 1934 Miller case was inappropriately used in appellate courts to justify infringements on the Second Amendment for decades. Those appellate decisions were invalidated with the Heller decision.
Donald Trump has publicly promised to get rid of gun free zones, directly to the members of the NRA. They will expect him to work hard to do so. This is a stark contrast with President “Dubya” Bush’s promise to sign a renewal of the “assault weapon” ban if it reached his desk. The controversial Gun Free School Zone Act may finally be repealed.
Trump also mentioned military gun free zones. The vast majority of active duty military are forbidden from carrying self defense firearms while on duty. It is a policy that started shortly after WWII and has been reinforced under later administrations, including the Obama administration. President Trump, as Commander in Chief, could reverse that policy immediately.
Gun Free Zones in the Post office could be reinterpreted by a Trump Department of Justice to be unconstitutional and unenforceable. A reform of Post Office regulations could neuter the ban. A directive to require removal of signs banning guns at Post Offices would make the ban unenforceable. A permanent legislative solution could be pursued in Congress. A removal of the Post Office ban has significant congressional support.
A Trump Administration could demand the Army Corps of Engineers eliminate its regulatory ban on the exercise of the Second Amendment on the lands that it administers. Congressional removal of the Army Corps of Engineers’ ban has significant support and could be enacted during a Trump administration. Court challenges of the ban have had mixed results. A removal of similar bans on National Park lands was enacted during the Obama administration.
Donald Trump, if elected, will have real opportunities to “get rid of gun free zones.” The military ban could be eliminated immediately. The Post Office and Army Corps of Engineers bans could be pursued with regulatory reform, executive actions, and legislation. The Gun Free School Zone ban could be attacked in the Congress and pursued in the Courts. Opportunities for Donald Trump to keep his promise to “get rid of gun free zones” are available and multiple.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.