2nd Amendment: Inside the most heated topic of 2018

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 at 5:09 PM

Lecture room 107A in Compton Hall was filled to capacity and buzzing with conversation last week, stuffed with Edinboro University students, faculty and members of the community who came to view and engage with a panel on Second Amendment rights. 

The panelists — Dr. James Fisher of the political science department, Dr. Joe Conti of the criminal justice department and former district attorney of Erie County, and Dr. Adrienne Dixon-McCullum of the counseling department, who specializes in school psychology — each used their allotted 10 minutes to reflect on the recent debate about Second Amendment rights in terms of the cultural implications of gun violence and gun reform, arming teachers and what it truly means to have the right to bear arms. Dr. Jerra Jenrette hosted the event, keeping time for the speakers. Jenrette introduced Fisher to present first and the room quieted. 

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Framed to ensure states could defend themselves in case the federal government encroached upon their sovereignty, the phrasing of the amendment regulates weaponry to state militias, not necessarily individuals, as Fisher put it. Still, in some American sub-cultures, he explained, guns are an integral part of citizens’ lives. A young woman in the Q&A later on would demonstrate this idea, talking of her classmates bringing hunting rifles to school without incident. 

The Supreme Court expanded upon the Second Amendment a decade ago, allotting individual citizens the right to bear arms, specifically handguns, “unconnected to militia service” and allowed citizens to use them for “traditionally lawful services.” Fisher asserted there are underlying principles at work in the amendment; it is essentially a “right to revolution,” and that an individual’s right to arms is especially powerful in their home. 

Because the right to individually bear arms is undeniable, banning all guns would be unconstitutional, explained Fisher.

Still, the Heller decision allows for a wide range of regulations, including banning weaponry from sensitive locations like schools, banning concealed carrying of weapons outside of the home, regulations for licensing, and Fisher stated that the court “implies strongly that it would allow for the banning of the possession of dangerous or unusual weapons,” defined by the court as “guns that were not in common use.” It stands to reason then, that nontraditional semi-automatic weapons and accessories (for example, bump stocks) are not protected from banning by the Second Amendment. In Fisher’s view, repeal of the amendment is unnecessary, as the Heller decision leaves room for reformation of gun legislation. On the matter of school shootings, Fisher said such situations are unfortunate “lightning strikes” that get the public’s attention, yet distract from the overall “weather pattern” that is gun violence in America.

Former prosecutor, district attorney, and civil litigation attorney Conti approached gun violence from the position of the lightning strike and how to prevent it. Many have called for legislation that will allow teachers to carry guns in schools to protect themselves and students in an active shooter situation.  Conti argued that doing so would be a civil liability nightmare. “Arming teachers and school personnel,” explained Conti, “should be understood in two ways; one is that you’ll actually allow them to carry firearms in the classroom.” 

“The second scenario is you don’t have them carry firearms in the classroom, but you give them access to it.” Both scenarios, as Conti explained, leave the school district implementing the policy open to civil liability charges should a teacher or child be accidentally injured. Conti brought up the recent accidental firing of a gun during a safety class inside a California school where one child was injured.

 Because arming teachers could feasibly create danger, doing so violates state-created danger doctrine under the Federal Civil Rights Act and would make the district in question liable for anything that goes amiss with the firearms, he noted. The so-called danger doctrine was created by the Supreme Court to determine what circumstances allowed for the limiting of First Amendment rights.

According to Conti, a state can allow a district to implement armed teachers, but the district would have to insure itself, which would be costly. On top of the price of training the teachers sufficiently, which could cost anywhere from $350 per person to thousands of dollars per individual, the price of the guns would have to be added. During the Q&A, an audience member said he’d be willing to pay the necessary taxes to arm teachers, and one man asserted he knew teachers willing to bear arms. Another commenter though, a teacher herself, said the thought of her colleagues having gun access would make her uncomfortable; it’s just not in the job description, she explained. 

Fisher urged the audience to consider the psychological impact of teaching kids in a weapon-rich environment. Such a militant approach, he asserted, may have the paradoxical effect of students feeling they need to be surrounded by guns to be safe from guns.  

McCullum’s 10 minutes focused on the impact of gun violence, particularly school shootings, on students and communities nationwide. In her view, the mental health of Americans should be at the forefront, not gun regulation. She described the impact of violence as a “ripple effect” that causes changes in productivity in the workforce and education settings, as well as increased diagnosis of people of all ages because of the stress and trauma. “Trauma,” McCullum stated, has the power to “change brain imaging.” She also said, “the American Psychological Association indicated that this is a major medical threat.” Loss of communal feeling, the extent of mental health services and accessibility, and sense of safety of U.S. citizens must be assessed to decide how to manage legislation, according to McCullum. “We need to take a strong look at those ripples and decide if we’re willing to pay the cost that way,” she said. 

The discussion wrapped up with praise from Conti to the audience for having a level-headed discussion about a topic that many have strong opinions about.

Zeila Hobson can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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