Banning guns in state parks a bad decision

March 6, 2017

Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves' December decision to support a gun ban in Delaware's 17 state parks and other forests is disappointing in an era of school killings, bomb scares, home invasions, and especially the random blowback attacks from our feckless Middle East interventions that we witness.

If you missed the story in the Cape Gazette Jan. 24, the lawsuit centers on a Second Amendment, self-defense constitutional argument about whether state regulations banning firearms in state parks and forests violate the Delaware Constitution.

Or, said differently, the question is really whether the natural right of personal self-defense can be selectively discriminated against, especially in a state where the concealed carrying of firearms is permitted after one fulfills the arduous state requirements?

Judge Graves thinks so. He concluded that the inability to carry deadly weapons in parks and forests causes no unreasonable burden on the plaintiffs and that "their right to bear arms to protect themselves if the need for self-defense arises is not hindered but rather, aided in effect by the presence of the regulations."

But, his reasoning begs questions. Does the judge really think that being unarmed during a sudden assault is "no unreasonable burden?" Or that "the presence of regulations" will be adequate protection to the self-defenseless in a secluded park? Has he forgotten that bad guys have a disinterest in following regulations?

In opposition, one of the plaintiffs, Jeff Hague, treasurer of the Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club, made a cogent point in saying that, "You can carry [handgun] in restaurants, or on the Boardwalk in Rehoboth. What's the difference between the Boardwalk and the back roads of a state forest?"

The judge disagrees, stating that the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Department of Agriculture "have an important government objective of keeping the public safe from potential harm of firearms in state parks and forests."

So, in creating "gun-free zones" he presumes that these regulatory bubbles of safety will suffice in preventing harm. But that is counter to reality.

Consider this overview from John R. Lott, Ph.D, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. His extensive research has found that since 1950, more than 98 percent of mass murders (three or more) have been in gun-free zones.

Why? Here's an explanation from his article: "Just a couple of months ago, a young ISIS sympathizer planned a shooting at one of the largest churches in Detroit. An FBI wire recorded him explaining why he had picked the church as a target: "It's easy, and a lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church. Plus it would make the news."

Now, just transpose the Detroit church with Cape Henlopen State Park on a busy summer weekend and think whether a gun-free zone regulation and warning signs will really be effective in stopping an attack.

But, what about the concern of the effectiveness of self-defense measures, you ask? Here's a media report from South Carolina last June:

"Just a couple of weeks after the Orlando massacre with 50 killed, a man, 32-year-old Jody Ray Thompson, started shooting at others (hitting three) at another nightclub. Fortunately, unlike Florida, permitted concealed handguns were allowed in bars in South Carolina. Before he could shoot a fourth person, the permit holder was able to shoot back, wounding Thompson in the leg." The assault was over; no other injuries.

As for safety concerns regarding permit holders, consider this from Florida state Sen. Greg Steube in trying to pass a school safety bill: "These are the facts: concealed licensed permit holders commit misdemeanor and felonies at a rate of .0002 percent on an annual basis. They are six times less likely to commit a crime than law enforcement officers. So you are talking about an extremely law-abiding group of people," explains Steube. He adds. "Why wouldn't we let them have the opportunity to defend themselves and others if they're not the ones committing the crimes." Indeed.

The success of the strategy is that it doesn't require everyone to be armed. Just a small percentage (4-5 percent) willing to take on the responsibility is generally effective because the attacker doesn't know who is or is not carrying. After all, they are cowards at their core.

Just look at the latest slaughter at the Fort Lauderdale airport where five were killed and six others wounded. There was a man with a handgun permit there, but he left his weapon home because the airport and the cruise line he was taking are gun-free zones.

That's the problem with Judge Graves' ruling. The Delaware Supreme Court should overturn it. If not, they should be required to place "gun-free zone" signs on the front of their homes.

Geary Foertsch lives in Rehoboth and writes from a libertarian perspective to promote policies supporting economic liberty, free market, small government and anti-war. He can be reached at

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