Lancaster Country Day School seeks a 1,000-foot “gun-shop-free school zone” around its Manheim Township campus, as well as all other educational institutions in the suburb, LNP’s Junior Gonzalez has reported. The “two-pronged proposal” not only would forbid gun shops within 1,000 feet of the school but would “ban any pictures or drawings of guns that ‘promote the use or sale of firearms’ within the same zone,” Gonzalez noted. The Manheim Township Board of Commissioners heard from a half-dozen residents about the school’s desired zoning proposal at its meeting Monday evening but did not vote on the matter.
We’ve lamented the burden placed on students to protect themselves — with active-shooter drills and bullet-resistant backpacks — and railed at the failures of our elected officials to pass sensible gun measures that would keep children safer (and by sensible measures, we don’t mean equipping children with river stones to throw at intruders, as one Schuylkill County school district unbelievably did).
Sensible. That’s the word we have used repeatedly.
In our view, a 1,000-foot “gun-shop-free school zone” around a school campus strikes us as sensible. Schools should be gun-free zones. Their doors should be locked against intruders; they should be appointed with state-of-the-art security features. But the only people packing heat in a school should be police officers.
Ted Irwin, a retired Army staff sergeant and teacher in the Ephrata Area School District, told LNP in 2018 that he was confident in his ability to take down an active shooter. But he expressed reservations about arming teachers, noting, “I feel like, personally, the risk of collateral damage would outweigh the help.” And he had combat experience in Iraq.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to us that Lancaster Country Day would want a buffer around its campus from people buying guns and carrying guns at a nearby gun shop. No one’s Second Amendment rights are going to be harmed if they have to drive a bit farther to shop for guns.
We were relieved when the former Gun Gallery at the corner of Dillerville Road and Harrisburg Pike, near Lancaster Country Day, was closed in February after being evicted by a state constable. That store was also near Franklin & Marshall College.
And we were pleased when, in rezoning that property last year, Manheim Township commissioners negotiated a condition to prevent the future sales of firearms or related products on that site.
But to seek to ban — within 1,000 feet of a school — any pictures or drawings of guns that “promote the use or sale of firearms”?
That is the opposite of sensible. And an infringement of the First Amendment. And, yes, as opponents of the proposal put it, political correctness — to the degree of silliness.
“If I (was) a vegan and got a petition because my feelings were hurt when Burger King put images of hamburgers in their windows, would you entertain that petition?” Manheim Township resident Howard Horn asked the commissioners.
It’s not a direct parallel — hamburgers generally aren’t lethal — but Horn makes a good point.
We absolutely should protect students from gun violence, but it’s ridiculous to think we need to shelter them from images of guns. They play video games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty. They watch videos on YouTube. They stream movies and TV shows like “Avengers” and “The End of the F-ing World.” Many of them hunt. They’ve seen guns before.
We agree with Joshua Cohen, the attorney representing Lancaster Country Day, who said measures are needed to ensure that students have a “lessened sense of a threat of gun violence hanging over their heads.”
We also agree with Lancaster Country Day Assistant Head of School Todd Trout who said, “For students to function at their best, it’s critical that students feel comfortable and safe.”
But comfort and safety do not mean sheltering students from reality. The “large and ominous” sign — as described by Cohen — outside the former Gun Gallery may have been distressing to students worried about gun violence.
But it was protected by the First Amendment.
So ruled Judge Troy L. Nunley of the U.S. Eastern District of California in 2018 in a case that challenged a nearly century-old prohibition in that state against storefront handgun ads.
Nunley, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, wrote that the government “may not restrict speech that persuades adults ... from purchasing a legal and constitutionally-protected product, merely because it distrusts their personality trait and the decisions that personality trait may lead them to make later down the road.”
We want measures that protect children from violence. And don’t violate the Constitution.