Although 2018 is still a dozen days away, the politicking and posturing for the new election year is well underway.
Thus, it came as no surprise last week when Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, flanked by two reliable legislators, Del. Kathy Szeliga and Sen. Wayne Norman, declared that when people go to their houses of worship, they ought to be able to strap on guns for their own protection. The trio promised legislation in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session to remove any such restrictions.
“Can you think of anything more egregious than being in the house of the Lord and someone coming in with ill intent?” Gahler asked in a news conference. We can’t, unless you extend such concerns to schools, movie theaters, parks, nightclubs, open air markets, college campuses and workplaces, all of which, like churches, have been the scene of mass shooting attacks with multiple deaths and casualties.
So, we ask, why stop at churches? Based on the sheriff’s past statements, we believe he would agree with us, by the way. Why limit guns at all?
We’re not going to settle that debate in this space. People have a right to defend themselves, and in this day and age, everyone should be aware of what’s around them and the prospect that at any minute somebody could try to do them harm, regardless of location and time of day. It’s an extremely fatalistic view, but a realistic one, too.
The day after his press conference, Gahler’s agency hosted an active shooter seminar and training for local churches. The day after that, the Aberdeen Police Department did the same for citizens and city employees. The emphasis at both was what you can do in a situation where somebody arrives with a gun and intends to use it to kill people.
We’re fine with such training; we think everyone would do well to take it when available. We also understand Gahler’s comments that he can’t put an armed deputy at every service in every church, any more than he can in every school – not yet, anyway, but it ought to be considered. If the Harford County Council can have a minimum of three armed deputies deployed at its meetings, council members and the county executive might consider ways to find money to get a police officer in every elementary school.
Let’s also be clear, however, that Gahler has a political agenda, an appeal to his base. He’s run in two previous elections as a gun rights candidate, the first time unsuccessfully, and we expect he’ll play the Second Amendment card throughout the 2018 campaign in which he’s going to be heavily favored to win a second term.
“I’m not a hunter, I’m not a marksman, I’m not a collector... the position is, the Second Amendment is a guaranteed right under the Constitution of the United States,” Gahler said during a Second Amendment rights rally held on Annapolis on Feb. 2, 2016. His remarks were videoed and posted on Facebook.
But guns in the wrong hands will still kill people, regardless of an unfettered right to bear arms. Regrettably, the sheriff himself experienced that eight days later when his two deputies were killed by a man with a handgun.
Awareness, protection, vigilance, support from law enforcement – all are important when it comes to public safety. Plenty of guns are already out there, so it’s doubtful legislating for or against more of them is the answer to preventing heinous mass shootings, regardless on which side of the issue you stand.