As recent events make clear, Louisiana public schools have a lot of work to do in improving instruction about Second Amendment issues.
After a Florida high school suffered a mass shooting last month, many students across the country publicly questioned how their government regulates firearms. Responses ranged from spontaneous demonstrations to protests meticulously organized by groups seeking to restrict Second Amendment rights during a designated “National School Walkout Day.”
In many instances, Louisiana high schools incorporated the walkout into a teachable moment about constitutional rights. On other campuses, walkouts were a weary exercise in political correctness run amok. Public elementary and secondary school students have the right to make political statements during school hours or at school-sponsored events as long as they don’t disrupt teaching. Any punishments for breaking the rules should be no different from those handed out in incidents that don't involve political expression.
To their credit, Lafayette Parish schools allowed a moment of silence on walkout day. Administrators also let teachers and students wear attire symbolically promoting peace. East Baton Rouge Parish schools developed learning activities about the violence issue without taking away from class time. Those approaches kept the focus on the issue, not theatrics and grandstanding.
Unfortunately, not all districts or schools acted as wisely. Orleans Parish let schools treat the affair like extended recess for older children, abandoning any effort to create a genuine educational moment. That just encouraged students to make a spectacle of themselves rather than really thinking about violence in society and the Second Amendment. The students who lost instructional time — even if they didn't protest — were the ultimate losers.
Louisiana schools, in general, could elevate this debate by providing accurate information in civics and history classes about citizens’ rights and firearms. If the rhetoric heard at protests is any indication, many students have a lot to learn.
Debates about gun control often revolve around restricting the ability of certain individuals to carry firearms, as well as what kinds of guns people might possess. The Florida incident resurrected frequent arguments that those younger than 21 should not own guns and that bans should exist on private ownership of semi-automatic guns; the alleged 19-year-old shooter used such a weapon.
Constitutionally, individuals have the right to possess firearms “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” according to the operative court case, District of Columbia vs. Heller. That leaves much wiggle room for federal or state regulation, with its latitude in policy-making best determined by the rationale behind the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment addressed fears that a tyrannical federal government would prevent citizens, who may mobilize within states as militia, from having weapons that could be used against it. So, the amendment’s primary purpose was not to provide people a means of self-defense against criminals but to have the firepower necessary to defend themselves against their own government. Properly understood, this means lawful possession of semi-automatic weapons and at the youngest age possible for mature decision-making deters government from going off the rails (as well as protects against foreign invaders).
It's something students should know. Schools can perform a big public service by helping to get that lesson across. And, given that legislation introduced in the Louisiana Legislature’s current session seeks to ban semi-automatic guns and raise the age to own them, it’s something some lawmakers need to know as well.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email email@example.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.