Friday, March 24, 2023

Grappling With Gun Free Zones: Safer or Sitting Ducks?

Two of the parishioners who are volunteers on the security force drew their weapons and took out the killer immediately saving untold number of lives.” –Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick

Two parishioners just shot and killed someone hell-bent on committing mass murder in their church. They likely saved dozens of lives. They were well trained and prepared to protect their congregation should the unthinkable happen. And it happened. Depending upon one’s point of view, these men are either heroes or just another part of the problem. 

Put me down in the hero category. 

In a mere six seconds, the shooter inside West Freeway Church of Christ was taken down. That is largely because Texas recently changed its firearms laws in response to the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting that left 26 people dead. According to the law, licensed handgun owners can legally carry weapons into places of worship. Another law allows churches to develop, train and plan for their own teams to provide security.

Places of worship in the Lone Star State are no longer Gun-Free Zones. Schools still are. 

There is no consensus in America whether gun-free zones are appropriate in schools or places of worship.  While Facebook and other social media sites are often ablaze with heated debates, even between friends and neighbors, the exchanges are often insult- laden and unproductive.  A respectful exchange of ideas on the topic appears impossible.

Last time I thought hard about the meaning of a “gun free zone” was in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shooting in 2018; it is now back on my mind again in light of the horrific attack on a rabbi’s home during a celebration of Hanukkah in Monsey, NY and a church shooting in Texas. I heard one person who was in the rabbi’s home at the time of the machete attack say that he threw a coffee table at the perpetrator—it was the only ‘weapon’ he could find. It did not stop the attack.

When I think of the Orthodox Jews in a rabbi’s home on Hanukkah or the parishioners at West Freeway Church of Christ or the students in Sandyhook and Parkland, my mind immediately flashes back to a sign on the door of my youngest son’s preschool that said — and likely still says — “Gun Free Zone.” He is in fifth grade now but I remember the sign giving me pause, the more I reflected on its meaning and potential implications.

My initial reaction was “duh, of course a pre-school should be gun-free.” I felt comforted by the thought that none of the people walking in and out of the building would have weapons strapped to their ankles or hidden under their jackets. But then, when I thought more deeply about it and imagined a gunman—or a man wielding a machete—entering a building full of defenseless children without a single person there equipped to stop him, I felt dread. 

If the unthinkable were to happen, those children and their teachers were sitting ducks. 

Lots of parents see “Gun Free Zone” signs as symbols of safety and security. Others see them as advertisements of vulnerability and defenselessness, welcoming invitations to those who wish to do harm. And the stats are compelling—the vast majority of mass shootings do happen in gun free zones. 

I do not know where the answer lies but I dare anyone to tell the Jewish communities in New York—where there have been at least 8 attacks in the past week—that they should not be able to protect themselves and their families from those who hate them enough to attack and kill them.

And I thank God for the quick action of the two men at the Texas church—their training coupled with their courage helped to quell what could have been a massacre. 

Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a former educator and elected school committee member. She is also a senior visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Her blog is Good School Hunting and her Substack is Sanzi Says. She occasionally writes for other outlets including Scary Mommy, The 74, and The Hill. She is the mother of three school aged sons and calls Rhode Island home.


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