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Monday, December 22, 2014

Instead of disarming law-abiding citizens, Congress should make punishment for gun crimes more severe

Should Congress pass laws that are effective? On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The ban would stop the manufacturing of these weapons and their sale to law-abiding citizens. The ban will do nothing to stop criminals from obtaining assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, because it is already illegal for criminals to purchase and possess them. The laws on the books haven’t stopped criminals from possessing and using firearms, so what makes anyone think that a new law that says the same thing will make any difference? The proposed ban will also not stop school massacres like the ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Virginia Tech or Columbine. It will only serve to reduce the defensive capabilities of law-abiding citizens.

Instead of disarming Americans who have done no wrong, why not make the penalties for using a weapon in a crime significantly more severe? Every state could pass laws making any crime committed using a firearm punishable by a mandatory 15-year minimum sentence, over and above the sentence for whatever particular crime they are committing.

If an assault weapon or a large-capacity magazine is used, then add an additional 10 years to the sentence. These penalties could not be reduced for good behavior; they would have to be served in full. That would take the dangerous criminals out of society for a much greater length of time. Criminals would know and understand the consequences of having or carrying any firearm.

This would keep law-abiding citizens from being punished for the actions of criminals. Any ex-convict found to be in possession of a firearm would be in violation of their parole and would automatically be sent to prison to serve their 15 to 25 year prison sentence without the need for a trial. While there is already a federal law that adds 10 years to any crime committed with a firearm, the law is rarely enforced. If states passed this law, it would have a real impact on gun crime. States that didn’t pass the legislation could expect to see a rise in their gun crime as criminals flee the states where it is in effect.

These laws, in the short term, would make law enforcement more dangerous because criminals would be faced with the severe penalties and might be more inclined to fight rather than surrender. As the penalties were instituted and it became clear that criminals with firearms were not going to be tolerated, the danger to law enforcement would subside over time. These changes would require citizens to be a bit more understanding as officers perform traffic stops or investigations because the officers would have to be much more careful.

To prevent school massacres where the perpetrator does not anticipate surviving the event, schools need to have a defensive means of stopping a school shooting. Armed guards have been proposed, but they are a poor tactical choice for protecting schools. Unless the armed guards are completely inconspicuous, they become the first target in a school shooting, giving the shooter an additional weapon. One person alone cannot adequately cope with a single shooter, especially with multiple shooters in a school shooting like Columbine.

Instead, allow concealed carry in schools for teachers and staff.

Pay four to 12 or more teachers to be a part of a quick response team. The number would be dependent upon the physical size and footprint of the school. One to $3,000 per year per team member would be more cost effective than hiring one armed guard. There would also be coverage of the school beyond the standard school day and potential perpetrators would not have any idea who was on the team. Each team member would be trained by qualified instructors to improve shooting skills, trained in shooting response tactics, defensive handgun training and the legal aspects of an armed response. The increased salary would pay for four to five days of training per semester.

Any teacher with a valid concealed-carry permit would be allowed to carry a gun in the school, but the rules for teachers would be different than carrying off campus. Weapons would have to be carried on their person at all times. Leaving the weapon in a desk, purse, bag, gun safe, locker or briefcase would be prohibited. Principals would need to know who in the school has a concealed-carry permit and who would be armed. The principals would be responsible for identifying questionable behaviors in teachers and staff who carried, and teachers who carry would be responsible for any action they take associated with the use of the firearm other than an armed-shooter response.

The changes in law proposed here would have a real impact on preventing gun crime and school shootings where the proposed bans have no way of being effective.