U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, looking for all the world like a poker player holding four aces, leaned in as he put his question to Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s choice to head the U.S. Department of Education. Did she believe guns belonged in or around schools?
Mr. Murphy and his counterpart in the Senate, Dick Blumenthal, are both anti-gun veterans of the Sandy Hook slaughter, though one suspects that even before a gunman entered the school, both were afflicted with a mild case of “hoplophobia,” a political neologism coined in 1936 by military officer Jeff Cooper to indicate “an irrational aversion to weapons" and also “the fear of firearms and armed citizens.”
Ms. DeVos, whose appointment is opposed by most Democrats tied to the apron strings of powerful teachers unions, replied, “I think that’s best left to the locales and states.” And indeed most decisions bearing on education are still left to municipalities and states, even though the federal government is able to bend states to its will by withholding education funding.
Following the mass murder of 20 students and 6 faculty members at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown a little more than five years earlier, the old school was raised and a new school rose like a phoenix from the ashes on the same spot. The architects of the new school furnished it with features that would make a similar murderous intrusion less possible. Almost immediately following the slaughter of the innocents by a 21 year old socially maladjusted man, a wide-ranging debate on guns and schools ensued. Five days after the mass shooting, President Obama announced that gun control would be a "central issue" during his second term in office. A year later, Mr. Obama issued 23 executive orders and proposed 12 congressional actions regarding gun control, including universal background checks on firearms purchases, an assault weapons ban, and limiting magazine capacity to 10 cartridges.
Gun control measures having been swiftly adopted in Connecticut, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Blumenthal tried their best to encourage the nation to adopt the Connecticut gun-control template. Some states and municipalities – Chicago, the murder capital of the nation, comes to mind – have on their books laws and regulations more restrictive than Connecticut laws adopted after the massacre in Newtown. The two Connecticut senators met a stiff resistance from legislators who thought, as does Ms. DeVos, that educational decisions should be made at the local level, as indeed had been the case in Connecticut. The critics also pointed out that the laws championed by Mr. Murphy and Mr. Blumenthal would have little or no effect on murders in cities, largely the result of gang activity and drug operations. Thugs in cities like Chicago and elsewhere, untouched by gun regulations, obtain their weapons illicitly, rendering them beyond the reach of laws that yet manage to criminalize previous licit behavior on the part of law abiding citizens who own guns.
The broad question put by Mr. Murphy to Ms. DeVos is easily answered. A school, municipality or state that does decide to post armed guards on the premises to thwart attacks such as occurred at Sandy Hook will have decided that guns do belong in and around schools. The right question to ask in these circumstances is: Who should decide how best to protect schools from attack? Should such decisions be made by the people of Sandy Hook and Connecticut’s political representatives, or should such decisions have been made for them by the now departed Barack Obama administration?
Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy, whose tender nerves are easily aroused by gun crimes, could not have helped but notice that, on leaving office, Mr. Obama, who previously had thought to end the mayhem in cities by issuing executive orders, stuck his thumb in the eyes of legislators such as Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Murphy who write laws transporting into jail those who use guns in the commission of their crimes.
For the benefit of legislators who hope to reduce gun violence in cities, Bearing Arms, a publication possibly not consulted by Mr. Blumenthal or Mr. Murphy, noted, following the pardons and commutations issued by Mr. Obama, this nerve shattering statistic: “Among the 153 commutations issued, 39 (including 10 with life sentences) were imprisoned for charges including firearms violations. Among the 53 pardons issued, 4 individuals were serving time for firearms violations.”
Thoughtfully, BearingArms provided a partial list of the criminal records of convicted felons who have been pardoned or whose sentences have been commuted by the solicitous Mr. Obama. One felon’s record is typical of many: “Peter Christian Boulette – 1. Possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing methamphetamine (two counts); possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime (two counts); felon in possession of a firearm 2. Possession of a firearm by a convicted person; possession of an unregistered firearm Sentence 1: 600 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (March 13, 2007) Sentence 2: 87 months’ imprisonment (concurrent); three years’ supervised release (March 3, 2008) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to a term of 300 months’ imprisonment.”
Ms. DeVos was not asked by Mr. Murphy what effect such arbitrary pardons and commutations might have on the urban vipers who prowl the cities and turn their illegally acquired weapons on innocent children, such as the 10 year-old girl shot in Hartford in November by a thug who doubtless acquired his weapon illegally, winking, as is usually the case, at laws passed by solicitous legislators and overturned by departing presidents.