“They’re saying the problem is not too many guns, but not enough guns?” Professor Plum asked, shaking his head as he looked at the mail. (More)

Incredulous, he left with Ms. Scarlet to join the resident faculty in the wine cellar library, where they’ll spend the weekend drinking thinking on our motto of Magis vinum, magis verum (“More wine, more truth”). The staff wished we could join them. No one even bothered to take out the cards and chips for the staff poker game. Chef offered to toast bagels or English muffins if anyone was hungry. Your lowly mail room clerk declined and turned to the week’s correspondence:


Dear Ms. Crissie,

Imagine that you ran a school district, and some rich foundation, worried about school shootings, gave you the following offer: We’ll hire armed security guards for you, who could try to do something about the school shooter. These aren’t going to be highly trained police officers, just typical security guards, given some modest training and subjected to basic background checks. It’s not like they’re highly skilled; security guards rarely are. But they have a basic understanding of how to shoot, and when to shoot.

They wouldn’t deal with ordinary trespassing, vandalism, and the like, nor would they be at all guaranteed to be effective in the event of a school shooting (who can offer such a guarantee?). But they’d provide someone on the ground who could try to interrupt a killing spree. And the foundation is paying, so it’s virtually no cost to the district. Would you say yes?

But wait! The foundation has just learned that its investment portfolio has done very badly, and the grant doesn’t go through. But someone else suggests: Instead of hiring special-purpose security guards, why not take some of your existing employees – teachers, administrators, and the like – and offer them a deal: They’d go through some modest training and subjected to basic background checks, and in exchange they’d be given the right to carry the same guns that the security guards would have had.

And no need to call the licenses given to those who participate in the program “concealed carry” licenses, just in case some parents and others don’t like the concept. Just call them “volunteer security guard” licenses, though you might expect that most people who sign up for this will also have licenses to concealed carry on the street. Of course, if a killer does show up, maybe some of these volunteer security guards will just cower in the corner rather than trying to defend the students, or attack the killer. But it seems more likely that someone will confront and try to stop the killer if that someone is armed then if that person is disarmed.

What’s your answer to that? Is there some reason why the armed security guard is safe and helpful, but the armed teacher, administrator, or staffer – er, the teacher with a volunteer security guard license – would be useless and a menace?

Eugene in CA

Dear Eugene,

As you are a prominent Second Amendment advocate whose law review article was cited by the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, we will credit you with a sincere intention to reduce gun violence. We also note that you offered a list of cases where an armed civilian may have stopped a mass shooting, and that unlike other such lists you concede that the facts of each case are murky and that three of those four shooters may have already stopped their deadly rampages before being confronted by the armed civilian. In the one case where it seems most likely the civilian stopped the rampage – the 2007 Colorado Springs church shooting – you also note that the civilian was a former police officer. Other such lists ignore those critical factual distinctions in their obsession to prove that the solution to gun violence is … more guns.

That said, academic research offers little cause to hope that arming teachers and school administrators – and, we presume, also shopping mall, fast food, and postal workers, church and movie theater ushers, and anyone else who works anywhere people gather and mass shootings have occurred – would reduce the violence. A Harvard School of Public Health survey of the research found that estimates of self-defense claims are wildly exaggerated, that most claims of self-defense were illegal and happened after the gun owner escalated an argument, that so-called self-defenders more often used their guns to intimidate family members or others with whom they were having a dispute, and that very few law-abiding citizens shoot criminals in true self-defense. Similarly, a Texas A&M study on expanded self-defense laws found that rates of burglary, robbery, and aggravated assault – the types of crimes one would expect such laws to deter – did not decline. But homicide rates in states with expanded self-defense laws rose by a nationwide total of 700 per year, very few of which were legitimate self-defense.

We also note that the phrase “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment clearly authorizes both the federal government and the states to regulate the purchase and possession of firearms and other weapons. Requiring gun owners to pass a state or federal licensing test including a criminal and psychiatric background check, and limiting magazine capacity and ammunition sales, do not infringe citizens’ rights as hunters or to defend their homes. Such common-sense regulations, advocated by many law enforcement agencies and supported by many grassroots gun owners, would save lives.

Taken as a whole, the research suggests that working, shopping, worshiping, studying, and movie-going among armed civilians would escalate more verbal disputes into deadly violence and kill far more people than it would save. We simply do not agree that the solution to gun violence is … more guns.



Eugene in CA; cited in Heller; list of cases where armed civilians may have stopped mass shootings; other such lists; Harvard School of Public Health survey of research on self-defense; Texas A&M study on Expanded Self-Defense Laws.


Happy Sunday!