The celebrations about a legal victory to allow more people to carry loaded weapons in public abruptly stopped as news spread about the rampage shooting in Sandy Hook.
Gun right advocates were jubilant last week when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Illinois' ban against carrying ready-to-use guns on the streets. There were high-fives at the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation ("SAF") when the court ruled in Moore v. Madigan that there is "a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home."
But three days later a killer took legally-obtained semiautomatic handguns plus a rifle used in war into an elementary school in Connecticut and murdered 20 children and six adults. The killer got the guns from his Mom, who used to take him target shooting. The killer was an enthusiastic gun buff and also murdered her. The senseless crimes took the glow off the courtroom success.
SAF founder Alan M. Gottlieb was giddy when he said, "this ruling affirms that the right to keep and bear arms, itself, extends beyond the boundary of one's front door. This is a huge victory for the Second Amendment." But the school massacre made his comment sound horrific.
Two Competing Viewpoints about Safety
In the law, there are two competing views about what "public safety" means when it comes to carrying a loaded firearm in public:
1. In the view of the celebrating gun advocates, public safety is about citizens being able to defend themselves from attack by having ready-to-use loaded firearms when they leave the house. They believe that the more loaded guns there are in public, the safer we are.
2. The reawakening view is that loaded firearms are inherently dangerous and are frequently used to commit violent crimes like the massacre in Sandy Hook. Permits to carry guns must keep guns out of the hands of minors, felons and lunatics and must forbid them in churches, airports and schools. The greater the limits on loaded guns in public, the safer we are.
The 7th Circuit adopted the "more guns are safer" viewpoint. It gave the State of Illinois six months to start issuing permits to carry loaded weapons in the community. We can be sure the state legislature will reflect about people who used legally-obtained guns in public places like Sandy Hook school, the Aurora, CO, movie theater and the Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Loaded Weapons in the Community
In ruling detached from reality, the court said that "knowing that many law-abiding citizens are walking the streets armed may make criminals timid." The theory is that if everybody, everywhere is armed with guns at the ready, there will be a deterrent effect -- rampage shooters and other criminals will not risk committing a crime with a gun.
"We expect relatively little public safety impact if courts invalidate laws that prohibit gun carrying outside the home," the court said, quoting a law review.
The 7th Circuit recited history about the Wild West and hostile Indians, and the laws of England in the 1700s in the decision. But it failed to mention that there have been 50 U.S. rampage killings involving firearms in the last 25 years, and that 82% of the murderers used legally obtained firearms. Illinois offered evidence in the case about the danger posed by allowing weapons in public, but the court sniffed that the arguments were a "failure."
For now the 7th Circuit, which forbids cell phones in its courtrooms as a security risk, has returned to its ivory tower. The gun lobbies will put away their party hats and get down to the serious business of making sure that it's easy for people in Illinois to carry loaded handguns everywhere they go.
But the Illinois legislature will see that that a lack of loaded guns in public is not a problem that needs solving. Let six months go by and perhaps there will be another criminal rampage shooting. The state will certainly seek a re-hearing of the 7th Circuit decision and start quoting the headlines that the rest of us have been reading. For the safety of citizens everywhere, the 7th Circuit must reverse its decision.