No magic wand will
make schools safe

Sounding Board Editorial #7 (March 16, 2008)

Dennis Foster

     Someone at the state legislature has been kicking around the idea of allowing guns in restaurants and in schools.  The usual hue and cry erupts in opposition, implying that people will be shooting up these places!  How bizarre can you get?  Indeed, one of my compatriots on the editorial board wrote a dissenting opinion on this topic and included the suggestion that two year olds would be carrying guns.  The editorial ran on March 16.

“What if … ?”  That seems to be the major argument against allowing citizens to legally carry weapons in public places, especially in schools.  This argument is rooted in the “magic wand” theory of public policy – with a simple wave we can declare schools “gun-free” zones, and these places will be safe.  Of course, reality is quite different.  Our current law really means that only homicidal maniacs may carry weapons into a school.  In the world I live in, incentives matter, and this law does not create the right kind of incentives.  [Yes, even homicidal maniacs respond to incentives.]  Those that are pushing to allow guns in schools are at least trying to change this incentive structure so that students, faculty and staff are not subject to this perverse consequence of the magic wand.

Still, there might be some middle ground here.  How about allowing only holders of CCW permits to be so armed in public venues, when such venues don’t otherwise screen for weapons?  Perhaps the requirements for the CCW permit can even be raised a notch or two as well – for example, some proficiency requirements and biannual renewal classes to keep up with legal issues.

Another idea is to keep the gun ban in place, but to require the installation of non-lethal devices, like tasers, throughout a facility, as is done with fire alarms, and with increasing frequency, defibrillators.  This certainly would go a long way to creating the right incentives without arousing all the “what if" arguments.

Dennis Foster has a Ph.D. in economics, teaches at the university level, is an avid Grand Canyon hiker and doesn’t own a gun, but knows people who do.

I try to use this platform to not only criticize, but also to make suggestions.  While it may seem more than a bit off the wall to argue for installing tasers like they were fire alarms, I rather like the idea.  In keeping to the word limit, I had to drop a line I really liked about the homicidal maniacs responding to incentives - "that's why they attack schools instead of motorcycle rallies."  See, they are rational.  Just go ask Nobel-prize winning economist Gary Becker.

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