Monday, June 2, 2008

Bring Your Gun To School Day Redux

Posted by Greg Hambrick on Mon, Jun 2, 2008 at 11:54 AM

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We're preparing a legislative review for next week, so I'm finally lifting my head out of the thick of the primary election coverage (Vote June 10).

An effort after the Virginia Tech massacre last year to allow guns on college and grade-school campuses failed, but new legislation has been introduced the takes the effort from a different direction and may go further than the classroom in opening gun-free areas to weapons.

State legislators acted quickly after the April 2007 killings to introduce legislation that would have allowed firearms on public school campuses.

State law currently prevents concealed weapons in a number of places, including schools, colleges, polling stations, police offices, jails, courtrooms, government buildings, day care facilities, churches, and hospitals. The bill proposes eliminating schools and colleges from that list. But don't go packing heat to biology class just yet, kids. State law would still limit concealable weapons to those who are 21 and over.

While enabling students and teachers to protect themselves may seem admirable, the concern from others, including gun advocates and federal and state law enforcement officials, is that you are also arming unstable people at a volatile time in their lives.

"We can't be a shining city on a hill when we're an armed camp," says Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control advocacy group founded by Bill Brady. As press secretary for Ronald Reagan, Brady was seriously wounded during an attempted assassination in 1981 and has since led the charge for stricter gun laws.

The bill was debated in the last days of the 2007 session, but was sent back to committee and hasn't been seen since. Now, Upstate Republican Michael Pitts has introduced a bill that would make state and local governments explicitedly responsible for damages resulting from "criminal conduct" in a gun-free zone if it's determined by "a reasonable person" that a gun would have "helped" the person defend against the crime.

The argument, I guess, is that if you can't change the law, scare public agencies with liability.

Unlike the first banning the gun-bans bill, the Pitts legislation doesn't single out schools. That may be why Pitts is a lone sponsor of this new bill. Introduced in the last days of the session, Pitts is likely floating the bill for potential reintroduction next year.

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