In Assuring Personal Security – Part I it was stated that the more significant Amendment relative to gun ownership and use by individual American citizens for personal security is the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, not the 2nd Amendment.
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
One of the “privileges or immunities” of American citizenship is owning private firearms and ammunition for personal protection. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 extended this right to black Americans, along with the Freedmen’s Bureau Act, and this right was later ratified as part of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Assuming this fundamental Constitutional right will not be successfully challenged in Court or the US Constitution amended, the question is: How do we prevent school shootings by children or adolescents with firearms? Or more specifically: How can society assure the personal security of children and adolescents in K-12 schools from other children or adolescents who have lethal firearms and are prepared to use them against their peers?
This is a narrow question, not a broad one. The question involves a K-12 school and a school-age child or adolescent with a weapon. This is not a question about mass shootings in general or shootings by a school-age child or adolescent outside of the school setting. In addressing this narrow question, however, perhaps an extension can be made to broader ones.
Using the logic of William of Ockham, (1287-1347; medieval philosopher and author of the notion known as Principle of Parsimony), the simplest solution is usually the best solution. We might be well on our way if we, as a society, can generally agree that:
- children and adolescents are not young adults or adults;
- the Rule of Law should recognize that children and adolescents are not young adults or adults;
- school personnel responsible for children and adolescents in their care have an enhanced duty regarding the personal security of those in their charge, as do community and state public officials.
First, there is no absolute definition, accepted by all, of what constitutes a child, an adolescent, a young adult, or an adult. In trying to answer our central question about personal security at school, we shall say that a child is a child until puberty, an adolescent is an adolescent through age 18, and a young adult is a young adult until age 21.
Second, our Rule of Law recognizes that children and adolescents are not young adults or adults but has trended toward granting equivalent rights to younger and younger age groups. Amendment XXVI, US Constitution, “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of age.”
Though completely dissimilar, the idea is that persons old enough to be drafted should be able to vote. It is thought irrelevant that to vote requires life experience, a financial “stake” if taxes are to be imposed, and a cognitive ability to know and discern fine points of policy.
Voting requires adult attributes not biologically available to adolescents and young adults whose brain functions are not fully developed. It is thought by most scientists that the human brain is not fully developed until one’s mid-twenties. Judgment and impulse control, among other things, come last biologically. Military service, on the other hand, requires obedience and physical nimbleness, both of which are possible in young adults.
The Supreme Court itself has moved closer and closer to the notion that children, adolescents, and young adults have the same protected Constitutional rights as adults. The Court recently ruled that violent video games that depict and teach skills to maim and kill other human beings and animals are “artistic expressions” and therefore protected speech. Brown v. EMA (2011).
Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia tells us, “Perhaps they [violent video games] do present a problem, but there are all sorts of problems that cannot be addressed by government restrictions on free expression.” Because of this ruling, states are unable to limit access to these games relative to age.
Finally, there are the schools themselves and the duties of teachers and administrators to protect the personal security of those in their care. It is a school’s first duty, with the help of the community.
Here are three simple steps that we as a society can take to protect children in our K-12 schools:
- The purchase of lethal firearms should be restricted to adults. Other requirements regarding fitness and training should apply state by state. This is a state issue under our Federalist system.
- The Supreme Court should be asked to revisit Brown v. EMA in light of the interactiveness of violent video games and their possible influence on the developing brains and emotions of children and adolescents. If a state decides certain forms of expression are harmful to children and adolescents, restrictions relative to those expressions should be upheld by the Court, if rational.
- Administrators should treat their school facilities as possible targets by anyone and prepare accordingly, in alliance with local public safety professionals and district prosecutors.
Outside Moral Law, Positive Law, Natural Law, and Unwritten Law lies the entire landscape of just plain Common Sense. Might we give Common Sense a try?