NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 24, 2006

A simple clause in the Gun-Free School Zones Act, turned millions of Americans into accidental felons, says Reason magazine. In 1995, the Supreme Court overturned the law -- which made it a federal crime to possess a gun within 1,000 feet of a school -- saying the law exceeded Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. To counteract the ruling, Congress simply placed a requirement that the firearm must have traveled in interstate commerce. Now millions of Americans have a criminal record.

According to an analysis by gun control scholar Alan Korwin:

  • The gun-free zones created by the statute cover so much of Phoenix and Cleveland that they are impossible for people traveling in those cities to avoid.
  • The law does not cover firearms on one's own property or handguns possessed by people licensed to carry them, but the exemption for other private citizens traveling with guns applies only to unloaded guns carried by hunters with permission from school officials to traverse whatever school zones lie between them and their destinations.
  • The law covers many otherwise law-abiding citizens who buy guns and bring them home, take their rifles on hunting trips, or drive with their guns to the shooting range.

Korwin proposes a simple solution: restrict the law to schools and their grounds. The more fundamental problem with the law -- that the Constitution does not authorize it -- is not fixed easily.

The Supreme Court has not yet considered whether the interstate commerce boilerplate that Congress added in 1996 renders the law constitutional, says Reason.

Source: Jacob Sullum, "Have Gun, Won't Travel," Reason, March 2006.


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