March 16, 2018

No Guns in the Library: Curbing the Second Amendment in the Stacks | Editorial

Last month, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals declared Illinois’s ban on carrying a weapon in public unconstitutional, leaving the District of Columbia as the only place in the country that does not allow the concealed carry of firearms by civilians (and D.C. is being sued to allow this).

The morally purblind pro-gun lobbyists have been so successful in saturating our society with firearms—from national parks to Amtrak trains—that public libraries across the country are also finding themselves having to grapple with Second Amendment radicals.

For example, the Boulder Public Library, until November, had a policy that read: “No person may bring a weapon into or possess a weapon in any library facility except this rule shall not apply to library security personnel or police officers carrying service weapons.”

In light of Colorado’s concealed weapons statute and a Colorado Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that said the University of Colorado could not ban concealed-weapon permit holders from bringing guns on campus, the library, as the Denver Post reported, had to change the rule to read: “No person may bring or possess a weapon, except as expressly permitted by state law.”

Clearly, the library prefers to limit the presence of guns, but the library also wants to respect the law. Unfortunately, our gun laws (and their interpretation) are increasingly misbegotten and take insufficient heed of the need for reasonable restraint in certain places. But even mild attempts at regulation raise the ire of the pro-gun crowd.

Virginia’s Richmond Public Library posted a rule this summer saying “carrying concealed weapons of any type is prohibited by State Law,” according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. The Virginia Citizens Defense League Inc., a pro-gun group, correctly told the library that this information was not accurate, and the library changed the rule to read “carrying concealed weapons is prohibited, except as permitted by law.”

Yet the defense league’s members found even this posting unacceptable, and 30 of the group’s members showed up inside the library in August with openly carried guns to protest the rule.

Guns, particularly openly borne guns, do not belong in libraries, which thrive on an inviting environment.

Still, in a closely watched case in Michigan, the state Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on October 25 that the Capital Area District Library (CADL) was exceeding its authority when it barred patrons from openly carrying firearms in library branches.

Michigan Open Carry challenged the ban in 2011 after library security guards asked armed Open Carry members to leave the downtown Lansing library branch (including the teen area) on several occasions. The library’s attorney said the administration still believes it has the authority “to ban the open carry of weapons in its branches in order to protect library patrons of all ages and CADL staff.” The library board voted in December to appeal the decision.

Henry Saad and Jane Beckering, who wrote the majority opinion, showed in their ruling that they were interested more in being judges than in being just:

“We are obligated to interpret and apply the law, regardless of whether we personally like the outcome. Certainly, at a time where this country has witnessed tragic and horrific mass shootings in places of public gathering, the presence of weapons in a library where people of all ages—particularly our youth—gather is alarming and an issue of great concern.”

Given our recent bloody history, of which Newtown is the pluperfect example, the court’s ultimate ruling is legalistic at best and far from ethically astute.

Michael Kelley, Editor-in-Chief

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Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley ( is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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  1. Thomas Stern says:

    What is most appaling is the pro-gun folks’ absolute lack of good old common sense (which, by the way, was far more important to the Framers and to this nation’s DNA than weapons). You can’t carry food and beverages inside a library; you can’t carry a purse, a bag or a backpack; it is to the library’s discretion whether you may carry a camera; maybe you’re allowed to carry a 1000 watt stereo, but certainly you won’t be able to use it, and the same goes for a cell phone; in some special collections, you may be prevented from carrying even a pen. I don’t think anyone has ever bothered to ask about the strict constitutionality of such stuff, because they are self-evident. It takes just a bit of common sense to understand that they are in the library’s best interest, helping to safeguard its users and its holdings. But you can carry an AK-47…

    • Spencer60 says:

      This is so wrong it’s ridiculous.

      You are able to carry the tools of your first amendment rights into a library. Your pens, you papers, your computer.

      You are not excluded if you choose to exercise your rights to religious freedom by wearing a burka or a yamaka.

      So why should you not be legally allowed to exercise your right to self-defense in a public building paid for with your tax money?

      Talk about a lack of common sense…

    • Gee, this Spencer60 probably has never set foot in a research library with a special collection… Dude, at Yale’s Beinecke Library, which I frequented daily for over a year, you simply can’t take pens, computers and cameras into the Reading Room. If you don’t believe simply have a look at . The same obviously goes in any other special collections reading room. The idea is protecting the holdings from any harm (and you certainly know a .357 shot in 13th century manuscript codex can be pretty harmful, even if accidental), and this is the common sense the other guy talked about.

      Don’t talk about things you have no idea about, just to defend your sacred right to be weaponized everywhere. And please explain how being prevented from using a pen (which can cause indelible damage to some library holdings) relates to your religious freedom…

    • I demand Libraries be rid of their First Amendment Rights! Libraries must become book free zones to protect innocent children from dangerous ideas.

      For example, the evil ideas in “Das Kapital” and “The Communist Manifesto” have killed more people than all the guns in America ever, including all our wars.

      Therefore, all books must be banned in Libraries. And homes, because that’s where the consumption of those evil ideas may occur.

      If you agree to a First-Amendment-free America, then I’ll consider entering empty libraries without my Second Amendment rights.

      Until then, I’ll keep all my G-d given rights, thank you very much.


      Brad Cloven

  2. While I’m not a fan of openly carrying a weapon, neither am I a fan of prohibiting law-abiding citizens from carrying weapons in public places without a good reason. Of course, there is good reason to prohibit carry in penal institutions or the detention areas of law enforcement facilities, as well as courtrooms and, possibly, city council chambers and the like where emotions can run high. However, I fail to see any reason whatsoever for prohibiting carry in a library. Does Mr. Kelly really believe that passions will run so high while reading a book that a law-abiding citizen will lose control and begin massacring other patrons?

    As a retired Federal Law Enforcement Officer, I carry a concealed firearm virtually everywhere. Yesterday I was in our local library doing genealogical research. No one was harmed or disturbed by my presence. Should someone, believing that the library patrons were helpless, have begun shooting the place up, I would like to think I could have stopped the slaughter very quickly.

    Aside from the tactical advantages of concealed carry, I don’t carry openly because I am well aware that the sight of an openly-carried firearm on someone not displaying a badge can cause apprehension. I don’t deliberately do things to upset my fellow citizens unless absolutely necessary, because it just isn’t polite. I am cognizant, however, of the view expressed by open-carry advocates that a right not exercised is a right lost. The sight of an armed uniformed policeman checking out a book or reading to his child should not upset library patrons. Neither should the sight of a person in plain clothes with a holstered weapon. I simply don’t understand the attitude that children should be spared the sight of a holstered weapon, lest they come to believe that carrying a weapon is safe, legal, and (gasp!) normal. That smacks too much of the attitude of some parents that they’d rather see their children come home in body bags than have them exposed to the idea that a gun on the hip of a school resource officer is there to protect them.

    “Gun-free” zones seem to attract mass murderers like trailer houses seem to attract tornadoes. If you’re distraught by the sight of a safely holstered pistol, or the possibility that one or more of your fellow citizens may be carrying a “hidden” weapon, get over it! Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably safer because of it.

    And as for the absurd suggestion that judges rule based on what they consider “ethically astute,” how quickly would the law plummet into anarchy if every individual judge was free to judge an action based on what (s)he believed to be “right” rather than what the law stated?

    Gary L. Griffiths
    Director, Advanced Force Tactics, Inc.

  3. Mark Crist says:

    Actually under Colorado law, the public library can ban guns in their building. They merely have to control access to the building using an armed guard and a metal detector in order to insure that everyone is unarmed.
    In other words, they have to enforce compliance instead of just using the honor system. This prevents the law abiding permit holders and other unarmed people from being assaulted by someone who might decide to disobey the “No Guns” sign.
    This law doesnt apply to private property. Just government buildings.

  4. Jason Phillips says:

    I understand and appreciate Mr. Kelley’s premise, but do not agree on several points. First, as in too many of these gun control conversations, there is never a distinction made between criminals and law-abiding citizens exercising their constitutional right to self defense. Criminals who intend to do harm in a public place such as a library would never be the ones who obey anti-gun laws. All citizens who have applied for and been granted concealed carry licenses have done so legally, and have undergone background checks. In many cases, firearms and safety training, as well as a check of references is a prerequisite to being issued a conceal carry license. Again, criminals and those not eligible for a conceal license do not subject themselves to the legal path to obtaining one.

    As librarians, we need to recognize that the world we live in does not always align with our expectations and desires in the matter of violence in our society. Instead of further stigmatizing guns, and lawful and responsible gun owners, we should be using this as a teaching opportunity to better educate our communities on the law, our history & traditions, as well as how firearms play a role – both positively and negatively – in our society.

    Wishing guns and gun owners would just go away will not facilitate this dialogue.

    • “All citizens who have applied for and been granted concealed carry licenses have done so legally, and have undergone background checks. In many cases, firearms and safety training, as well as a check of references is a prerequisite to being issued a conceal carry license.”

      In which dream-world do you live, Mr. Phillips? In Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming no permit is needed. In Montana, Utah, South Carolina, and New Hampshire the state legislatures are discussing bills that will allow unrestricted carry. By themselves, these examples are enough to disprove your whole argument.

      The real point is so much simpler than all this talk about law-abiding carriers v. criminals. A gun simply doesn’t belong in a library, as much as a cellphone, a cigar, a bottle of water or a slice of pizza, for the simple reason that it can cause irreparable damage to the belongings, even if its carrier had no harmful intention (as much as a cup of coffee, which I’d love to be able to take into a library, but obviously can’t). It’s not metaphysics, just property protection, which, *as librarians*, must be a cherished goal of ours. As to the obvous need of protecting the law-abiding readers that use the library, it’s a matter of metal-detectors and security checkpoints. Of course a criminal may be able to bypass those, in the same way he or she may bypass airport security measures (what does’t prompt any serious thinker to suggest that, given this possibility, law-biding citizens should be allowed to take handguns into aircraft).

    • Jason Phillips says:

      Thank you, Tom. The fact will still remain that the dream world many gun control advocates live in is a world where there are *no* guns and the ones that exist have no place in our society.

      The right to keep and bear arms is a guaranteed personal right that extends down into state and local law (DC vs. Heller, 2008 and McDonald vs. Chicago, 2010). There can be reasonable restrictions placed upon this right per those decisions. The various conceal carry laws all fit into this restriction.

      The fact is that personally I do not support unrestricted open carry, nor do I support conceal carry without background checks. The state wherein I live does not require firearms or safety training before obtaining a conceal carry permit, while others do. I would support having this reasonable safety step required. I believe that citizens who wish to conceal carry should be firmly separated from those that would not pass or subject themselves to a background check. If you carry without a permit, you are in violation of the law.

      Private property rights must also be respected. Private businesses that do not wish conceal carry in their establishments have the right to that position, and I believe responsible gun owners should respect that. Libraries, as noted, are often public facilities. As a place of open dialogue, open access to information, and as a place where many if not all of our cherished rights are exercised, it simply should not be a place where certain aspects of our society can possibly be shut out. If local laws are passed to restrict conceal carry in public places including libraries, responsible gun owners should and have a duty to respect that. Criminals do not adhere to or respect any of these restrictions, of course.

      I also wholeheartedly support open coffee carry in all libraries, however, without restriction (a lid, perhaps?)

  5. I am conflicted on the open carry, I see the point of the author though I dont really agree. Where I greatly disagree is in the idea that libraries should be off limits to concealed carry permit holders with their weapons concealed. Why? There is no argument to make a library off limits that isnt an argument about the practice of carrying concealed weapons in general. CCW is the law in most states, those laws are not going anywhere. If I am peacably carrying my concealed weapon in Wal-Mart and McDonalds and Chucky Cheese why is the library some place magical? If you dont like it get CCW banned everywhere. Otherwise, if you take taxpayer money as a public institution, you need to let lawful citizens do what they are lawfully doing most everywhere else.

  6. Maybe another way to view the issue is that anyone who is exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms should not be needlessly disarmed simply because they choose to enter a library. Where are they to store their firearm if forced to remove it? We all have seen just how effective “gun free zones” are recently…why create more of them? It is patently obvious that those with the intent to murder will not be dissuaded by the “no guns” policy. Why not allow citizens their right to defend themselves effectively?

  7. Doug Sterling says:

    In general people need protection from would-be evildoers. The Obamas and their kids benefit from Secret Service protection.

    My local library almost always has an armed police officer working as one of the librarians. I am happy that he and his gun are there, and feel no need to augment the protection he provides with my own gun.

    In general, any place that serves the public that wants to ban members of the public from carrying their own gun, assumes the responsibility for providing adequate security. That means paying good guys/gals carrying a gun. Otherwise, the public should be allowed to exercise their natural right to defend themselves and others.

    • Jason Phillips says:

      Doug – I am on the same page with you regarding the protection of second amendment rights, but I have seen the Obama / secret service analogy far too many times in recent debates. All citizens have a right to self protection, but the fact is that you or I do not show up on anyone’s hit list. The President, Mrs. Obama, and his children are entitled to protection that goes above and beyond what you and I reasonably need as we go about our daily lives.

      I appreciate the analogy – he has protection, we are also entitled to it, and Congress or the president have no right to take it away from us.

  8. How dare gun owners object when a librarian posts a misleading and untrue sign threating legal action against citizens excersing their 2nd amendment rights.

    Next thing you know black people will object to signs telling them to sit in the back of the bus.

  9. Robert M' Simon says:

    When is this Unconstitutional “Gun Control” nonsense going to stop?Most,if not all, of these mass shootings occur in silly “gun-free” zones.They don’t happen at NRA convention or Tea Party rallies.An armed America is a safe America.The answer to keeping sick people from using guns revolves around raising more decent people,keeping the family together and promoting a culture that respects human life.All those ideas run contrary to the distorted liberal “vision” of what America is suppose to be in their eyes.

  10. It’s always hard to be respectful when the LJ editorial staff takes to calling those with whom you agree “cowboys”, “crazy”, “morally purblind” and “loonies”. Rather than respond to the name-calling, why don’t we just consider the facts?

    Just how safe is the Capital Area District Library in Lansing, Michigan? What are the facts? Who needs protection in a library? Why would someone carry a weapon when there are children present?

    The online resource shows that In the last six months, there were 43 crimes committed within 1000′ of the library. Ignoring non-violent offenses such as drug, burglary, vehicle larcenies, theft and stolen vehicles, there were still 10 violent crimes including 9 assaults and robberies and 1 case-within the library itself-where a 30 year old sex offender lured two adolescent girls into the library stairwell and sexually assaulted one of them. Well….facts be damned, we have our moral agenda to impose!

  11. Mr. Kelly wrote:

    “Henry Saad and Jane Beckering, who wrote the majority opinion, showed in their ruling that they were interested more in being judges than in being just:”

    I’m sorry but comment shows a complete lack of respect for the law and the judicial system. A judge is required to rule on the merits of the law, to be a judge, not craft policy from the bench. Would Mr. Kelly apply this criteria to a First Amendment issue if it didn’t go the way he wanted it?

    However one might feel about the issue of guns respect for the law should be important. On a social and common sense level taking a gun to a library is not an appropriate action. Those who do so in protest are probably doing so because a government entity is telling them they cannot exercise a legal right.

    • I agree 100% Remember we have separation of powers for a reason in our society. The proper place to create law is state legislatures or the U.S. Congress. Expecting judges to rule based on other criteria than what the law currently says (except in the case of judicial review for constitutionality) puts us on the path for a judiciary oligarchy. And this is not simply a right-wing concern. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. so ably shows in his book Our Divided Political Heart, both left and right wings of our political spectrum engage in judicial activism when in the majority. So whatever my feelings about gun control (currently undecided) I have to agree with Caroline’s objection to Michael Kelly’s implication that judges should be free to overrule what the law currently states.

  12. “Guns, particularly openly borne guns, do not belong in libraries, which thrive on an inviting environment.”

    So let me get this straight. Legally posessed firearms should not be brought into libraries because it dampers an “inviting environment,” but the open viewing of pornographic images on library computers must be defended at all costs? How inviting is it to have porn “openly borne” to library staff and young children in a public area?

    Don’t use the “inviting environment” argument unless you’re ready to be challenged on public display of Internet porn.

    • Viewing porn in our library on library computers or using the library’s WIFI is not allowed. Patron’s are made to get off the computer, a note is put into their record and library privileges are suspended for the day, A second offense is a week suspension and a third is 6 months.

      So porn is not invited or allowed into our library. This is clearly stated in our policies and patrons who use our computers and access are given this warning that “using inappropriate sites or usage of computers will warrant suspension of library privileges.”

      And the excuse my friend sent me this link and told to check it out does not cut it.

    • Excuse me, Meg, but your library is operating in opposition to current judicial opinions on the First Amendment and will be forced to change the policy if sued.

  13. There is one very good reason I can think of for no guns in a library. When couples have a fight. Tempers can get heated and we (the staff) have to ask them to leave. If one or the other were carrying a gun these situations could quickly get out of control.

    There are fights about what one or the other does not want to watch, the fine amount on an account, or even a Facebook friend suggestion.

    So, yes, guns are a right but there are responsibilities that that gun-owner/holder has as well. And it is the issue of responsibility that is unfortunately getting lost in the shouting over rights that no one is threatening to take away.

    • Doug Sterling says:

      Policemen also sometimes have heated disagreements. Should we therefore disarm the police?

      “the shouting over rights that no one is threatening to take away.”

      The final objective of anti-gun forces is to outlaw the private ownership of guns. Anyone who denies that is either deluding themselves, or is disingenuous.

  14. Jeff Dege says:

    “Guns, particularly openly borne guns, do not belong in libraries, which thrive on an inviting environment.”

    How does banning permit holders make for an “inviting environment”? Or do you mean to invite only the people who agree with you?

  15. Librarians against Liberty…. Who would have thought it..

    No doubt you look forward to recieving the “State Approved List of Books” which may be offered?

    Nobody needs that “Embarrassing” Second Amendment get out your Magic Markers, Scissors and cut it out..

    The Second Amendment is what in the final analysis has defended the First from the inception of our Republic..

    Oh I know….. Shhhhhhhh

  16. Mr. Kelley, Please be aware that you do not speak for all librarians, library workers, library administrators or library users. I am and have been a concealed weapons permit holder for years. I am also a professional librarian and have been for years. I personally know at least 4 other librarians who are also licensed to carry including one who is a retired police officer. I’m quite certain that there are many more of us out there than that who quietly go about our business every day of the week. I am not a fan of open carry for personal reasons but I support the right of others to do so if they choose. I do not choose to carry my firearm while in my place of employment out of deference to my employers policy on the subject, not because there is any law against it. My library is just about the only place outside my home that I don’t carry a firearm. I could be standing next to you anywhere in the country and you’d never know it because I don’t go flashing it around. Not every library is located in a “safe” neighborhood, not every librarian lives in a “safe” neighborhood after they leave work and not every “safe” neighborhood is as safe as you might think. My library is in what most would call a very safe area and yet it has been touched by the death of a coworker at the hands of a violent offender on library property. Any front line library worker who has never dealt with a patron who is clearly mentally ill, intoxicated or dangerously belligerent has probably not been on the job very long. I have been through training, an extensive background check and fingerprinting and have been approved by both my local Sheriff’s Dept and my State to carry a weapon where and how I choose. Thankfully I have never needed to use my firearm but I’ll be damned if I’ll give it up to you or anyone else.

  17. LibrarianMama says:

    “Unfortunately, our gun laws (and their interpretation) are increasingly misbegotten and take insufficient heed of the need for reasonable restraint in certain places.”

    Reasonable restraint in certain places? Mr. Lanza was not a reasonable individual. He stole a gun from his mother who had them properly stored and properly permitted. Criminals are not reasonable people. And they seem to unleash their insanity on reasonable places, like educational institutions. A law-abiding citizen open carrying their gun is reasonable. It’s not just about living or working in a safe or unsafe environment, because clearly Shady Hook was a safe environment. It’s about being prepared to defend yourself or anyone else from criminals.

  18. So many people fervently convinced that guns should be allowed in public libraries! Well, after all, it is the duty of the public librarian to cater to the needs and demands of the public. Help me out, folks – how, exactly, should a policy that allows guns in a library be enforced? I work in a very small, public library, and we don’t have a security guard – if a large, clearly agitated person carrying a gun comes into the library, what should I do? Should I just assume this person is a law-abiding citizen with a carry permit until they prove otherwise, or do I have a right to ask to see their permit? Can I ask the police to come in to ask this person for their permit, or will this result in a discrimination lawsuit? If I ask to see their permit, and it turns out that they do not have one, and are, in fact a criminal, and I am shot in the face for engaging them, would my loved ones have grounds for a lawsuit or would it be my own fault for not having a gun of my own with which to defend myself? The problem with allowing someone to enter a library, or any public building, with a gun is that you do not know if they are legally allowed to carry it unless you confront them, and you cannot tell what they mean to do with it until they have done it.
    There also seems to be some confusion here regarding the text of the Second Amendment. For clarification, it states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” (There are different versions out there – the text is the same, but you may add commas or capitalizations as you see fit.) It is worth noting that the Second Amendment is the only amendment that gives a specific purpose for the right it grants, that is, a “well regulated militia.” The definition of a militia can be rather tricky, and I suppose one could argue that any group of individuals organized around a central idea can be considered a militia, and that carry permits are appropriate regulations. (This then leaves us with a militia that organizes and bears arms in order to defend its right to organize and bear arms, but the Founding Fathers did not specify that the militia need be intelligent.) Still, in the same way that First Amendment does not grant citizens the right to say or write whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, the Second Amendment does not grant citizens the right to bear arms whenever they want, wherever they want, on the off chance that something bad might happen.

    • Richard Clark says:

      There is a major hole in your argument on comparing any amendments to the second amendment. The second amendment was clearly put in there to protect against all other amendments from being violated. It is sad that the message of our bill of rights have been buried in history. These were written in a time when oppressive governments (kings, rulers, monarchies) were the norm.
      The fact that the words “shall not be infringed is only found in the second amendment let’s us know that this was very important. The language of the second amendment being so vague shows that they wanted to paint a picture with a broad stroke. Obviously all constitutional rights are not to be infringed but the it was worded only in the second amendment to show how important this is to a free people.