Ed Helleher, president of the pro-gun group GrassRoots South Carolina (GRSC), believes the presence of legally armed parents in the parking lot at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md., could have provided a "deterrent effect" on the still-unknown sniper who shot and seriously wounded the child.
But Maryland State law (Article 27 Sec. 36A) expressly prohibits the possession of firearms on any school property, even if a gun owner possesses a permit to carry a concealed weapon. (An exception is made for law enforcement.)
Federal law also prohibits anyone from possessing a firearm within a thousand feet of school grounds. That federally mandated "gun-free school zone" includes public, parochial and private schools.
Maryland is one of 32 states that issues permits for people who want to carry concealed weapons. However the Maryland State Police, which issue the permits, warns applicants they are difficult to obtain.
According to a fact sheet available on the Maryland State Police website, state residents applying for an "unrestricted" concealed weapons permit probably will never get one. "Almost all handgun permits are restricted in some fashion," the website says.
'More guns, less crime'
Mass murders have one thing in common, said Helleher. They happen in places where people are forced to be disarmed, he said. "You don't hear about shootings at NRA conventions and gun shows."
GrassRoots South Carolina is trying to change state gun laws so that people with concealed weapons permits would be allowed carry guns in school parking lots, while dropping off or picking up their children. The group believes that's the best way to stop crime on school grounds and in neighborhoods.
But state lawmakers apparently don't agree. A measure that would have allowed concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns in school parking lots failed this year in the South Carolina legislature.
GrassRoots South Carolina also wants to increase the number of concealed weapon permit holders: It is working to double the number of CWP holders in South Carolina by 2006.
The pro-gun group is hosting a "Great GrassRoots Gathering" on October 19 to generate support for its goal of arming local citizens "wherever and whenever they choose."
Helleher said he hopes the educational event will help minimize the "hysterical reactions" of non-gun owners who object to the idea of private citizens carrying guns on school grounds. He said GrassRoots South Carolina and its 5,000 members want to convince concerned parents and lawmakers that gun owners are "good people motivated by good desires."
But swaying the anti-gun crowd is not an easy task, he said.
"People just aren't comfortable with it," Helleher said. "People are comfortable with police officers carrying guns in schools because they know them and they have a good feeling about police officers."
Helleher said he often asks parents if they would have used a gun to protect their children in a school massacre such as the one at Colorado's Columbine High School. He said their response is always the same: "Sure, I could use a gun."
Helleher also said he's a strong proponent of arming teachers as an additional deterrent to school shootings.
By his account, arming teachers proved effective about a decade ago in Israel when terrorist gunmen launched a rash attacks on Israeli schools. Once the gunmen realized the teachers were armed, the killings stopped, he said.
The fact remains, Helleher said, that all of society benefits when good people carry firearms.
"What stops people from shooting? People arriving on the scene with guns," he said. "How can we prevent shootings? It seems pretty obvious to say, 'Well, let's have people with guns there in the first place.'"
The other side: More guns, more violence
Ginni Wolf, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, Inc., said issuing permits for parents and teachers to carry weapons on school property would only lead to more violence and tragedy.
"You get into a fight with your child's teacher because you don't believe they're being fair to your child and you're in a parent-teacher conference and emotions run high and out comes the gun because you're allowed to have it," Wolf hypothesized. "That's not very far outside the realm of possibility."
Further, she noted that parents have become increasingly violent at their children's sporting events in recent years, a subject that's received much discussion in the media.
"If they were on school property and they got into something like this, would they not pull out their gun?" she asked. "That happens with road rage all the time."
Wolf said the example of the Maryland sniper has only solidified her group's argument that there are "too many guns out there, and it's very easy for these types of people to obtain guns."
Representatives from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research refused to comment to \b CNSNews.com.
E-mail a news tip to Michael L. Betsch.
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