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First Amendment Sure-But the Second Amendment Too?

by on December 6, 2012

As librarians, we have no problem with the First Amendment, right?  Sure, it might be trickier than a simple yes or no. Well, how about championing the Second Amendment? The right to keep and bear arms? Apparently, some-trigger happy citizens have set their sights on libraries. (Sure, it’s a bad pun…distressing, too).

In Michigan, open carry advocates challenged a Lansing area public library’s no gun policy.  Initially, the library’s policy was upheld by a county court, but was then struck down by an appeals court on October 25. It’s the state’s place to regulate firearms, the second court said in a 2-1 ruling. The two judges who voted to overturn the earlier ruling, Jane Beckering and Henry William Saad, acknowledged: “Certainly, at a time where this country has witnessed tragic and horrific mass shootings in places of public gathering, the presence of weapons in a library where people of all ages — particularly our youth — gather is alarming and an issue of great concern.”1

However, they went on to posit, “We are obligated to interpret and apply the law, regardless of whether we personally like the outcome.” In her dissenting opinion, Judge Elizabeth Gleicher, points out that the Michigan law cited by the prevailing judges prevents local (that is town, city, and county) governments from enacting legislation with regards to firearms. However, since the library is both a public place and not a local government, their policy is not a legislative action and is protected under Michigan legal precedent, she asserts. Library anti-gun policies are also being challenged in Blacksburg, Virginia. That little bell should be ringing in your head…yes, that Blacksburg, where the disaffected student went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech, killing 33 people and wounding 12 others.

An AmmoLand column, dated October 26, 2012, details efforts of local gun activists to challenge a similar ordinance in their public library. The anonymously written column posits that if the library is going to specifically ban guns, then it should spell out everything that is banned — “Why doesn’t their list of rules show ALL the other things that you can’t do unless it’s legal? You know, drive a car, possess a camera, wear a hearing aid, wear a green shirt, walk backwards into the library, carry a briefcase…”2 This is a pretty unrealistic demand. Does the library also need to ban Anthrax, the Ebola virus, nerve gas, nuclear weapons, flamethrowers, half-decayed corpses, etc.?  Some objects clearly present a threat to the public. That should be obvious…especially in Blacksburg, which marked the fifth anniversary of the massacre just this past April.

Last year in Arizona, legislators considered laws regarding guns in libraries and other public places. Gun advocates argued that armed citizens should be able to defend themselves, a sentiment not shared by law enforcement:

“But not a single law enforcement official agreed that more guns would mean more safety. Their take is that the risk of gun violence caused by more guns inside a building is far greater than if guns are banned. Further, if a shooting were to occur, untrained bystanders—Arizona has dropped its training requirement—firing their weapons would almost surely cause more injuries.“3

I would hate for it to take a number of shootings in libraries to get some people to rethink their position.  I would also hate to have to strap on a Kevlar vest and a Glock to help a patron find a book on Gandhi.  Now that would be bitterly ironic, wouldn’t it?

[1]    “Michigan Court of Appeals: Gun owners can open carry in district libraries,” accessed November 2012, http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/10/michigan_court_of_appeals_owne.html
[2]    “Blacksburg VA Library Playing Games with ‘No Guns’ Rule,” accessed November 2012, http://www.ammoland.com/2012/10/09/blacksburg-va-library-playing-games-with-no-guns-rule/#axzz2AQhyjwIc
[3]  “Arizona not ready for Guns in Libraries,” accessed November 2012, http://azdailysun.com/news/opinion/editorial/article_18d2439c-5744-5f47-b53f-3035eec735c0.html