“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms…another important limitation of the right to keep and carry arms…is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’.”  Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority in the landmark Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Dick Anthony Heller, 2008.

Scalia’s opinion in Heller strongly reaffirmed prior court decisions that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” and that, though related, this right was separate from requiring actual involvement in a “well regulated Militia”. He wrote of “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home” and for the defense of self and family.  Yet, as noted above, the decision acknowledged limitations and did not address the District of Colombia’s licensing requirement. And he quoted from an 1868 Treatise on Constitutional Limitations that “…to bear arms implies something more that the mere keeping; it implies the learning to handle and use them in a way that makes those who keep them ready for their efficient use…”.

The Alexandria City Council recently unanimously passed a resolution by Councilman John Chapman authorizing the Public Health Advisory Commission to assist businesses prohibiting guns on their premises and to let other businesses know that they have the right to do the same. This action is commendable. That Alexandria cannot do more to regulate guns is tied to Virginia’s strict and anachronistic application of the Dillon Rule, which allows the state legislature to control legislative actions taken by any city or county by limiting such actions to subjects and powers the legislature has specifically delegated to that locality. Further, Virginia Code states that “No locality shall adopt or enforce any ordinance, resolution or motion,…and no agent of such locality shall take any administrative action governing the purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying, storage or transporting of firearms, ammunition, or components…other than those expressly authorized by statute.”

The Alexandria City Public Schools has instituted mandatory on-line teacher training for dealing with an active shooter in their school. This is an incredibly sad but necessary action. Active drills, similar to fire drills, are worthy of a public hearing by the School Board as is expanding the use of School Resource Officers, who are armed, sworn police and currently assigned to George Washington and Francis Hammond middle schools, Minnie Howard and T.C. Williams. It is of concern that even SROs with extensive firearms training have made national news recently for accidentally discharging their weapons, including here in Alexandria. Arming teachers is no answer to school shootings. It is anathema to consider guns in classrooms given  the number of accidental shootings of children in homes with guns. Teachers are trained to teach, not to worry about keeping a weapon secure or having to shoot someone in defense of their classroom.  The School System should, however, consider hiring security consultants to look at the “hardening” of secondary school buildings, with elementary schools to follow.  These might include secured entry areas with double door sets, automatic window blinds, and stronger doors and locks for classrooms. 

With youth leading the charge, we have hopefully reached a tipping point with regard to common sense reform. The NRA has drawn such an extreme line in the sand for so long that it has lost any credibility to play a part in the compromises that inevitably result when seeking support to pass new laws. Virginia Senator Mark Warner and Representative Don Beyer are among those who have sponsored bi-partisan legislation to address the gun violence crisis. Our country needs new proposals at the state and federal level that offer solid policies to deal with gun violence and ensure responsible gun ownership. These include bans on military style assault rifles, bump stocks, and high capacity ammunition magazines; requiring specific training for licensure; raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21; requiring universal background checks that include interactions with law enforcement and mental health authorities and that apply to both gun shows and private sales; improving state and national data bases; and providing aid to localities to assess threats of violence and to strengthen restraining order laws. Mental health laws and services also require review, the subject of a future editorial.

The internet media skills of the students who led the March for Our Lives rally in Washington dwarf those of their parents and grandparents. Should the millennial generation and like-minded boomers join these students in the voting booth, a sea change is coming. Those lawmakers who choose to ignore the potency of this unleashed force may finally meet their match. Already, both Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods have announced significant policy changes covering their gun and ammunition sales. Advertisers pulled their support from Fox News after commentator Laura Ingraham attacked Parkland student leader David Hogg with churlish and ugly personal taunts. And Alexandria’s own Naomi Wadler, an 11 year-old George Mason Elementary School student and the youngest speaker at the March for Our Lives rally, has already shown poise and maturity beyond her years as she broadened the school security debate to include the shooting epidemic occurring in urban minority neighborhoods across America. We are proud of the student activists and their success in providing hope where despair has had the upper hand for far too long.