Lott: Criminals target gun-free zones
Would you post a sign announcing that your home is a gun-free zone? Would you feel safer? Criminals don’t obey these signs. In fact, to criminals, gun-free zones look like easy targets.
So why do we put up these signs in other places? The Michigan state Senate is considering whether to lift the ban on permitted concealed handguns on school or university property. Gun control advocates can’t point to any problems with permit holders carrying gun in those places, but it hasn’t stopped them from pushing a new law.
Since at least 1950, all but two public mass shootings in America have taken place where general citizens are banned from carrying guns. In Europe, every mass public shooting has occurred in a gun-free zone. And Europe has been host to three of the six worst K-12 school shootings and by far the worst mass public shooting perpetrated by a single individual.
With dozens of cases where permit holders have clearly stopped what would have been mass public shootings, it is understandable why killers avoid places where they can’t kill a large number of people.
What might be surprising is how killers often openly talk about their desire to attack where guns are banned. The suspected Charleston killer’s first choice was to target the College of Charleston, but he chose the church instead because there were armed guards at the college.
The Aurora, Colorado, movie theater killer, James Holmes, was considering both attacking an airport and a movie theater, but he said he turned down the airport option because he was concerned about their “substantial security.” Out of seven theaters showing the “Batman” movie premiere within 20 minutes of the suspect’s apartment, only one banned permitted concealed handguns, and that is the one he attacked.
Or take a couple of cases from last year. Elliot Rodger, who shot to death three people in Santa Barbara, Calif., explained his own choice. In his 141-page “Manifesto,” Rodger turned down targets because he worried that someone with a gun would cut short his killing spree.
In late 2013, Ron Noble, the secretary general of Interpol, noted two means of protecting people from mass shootings: “One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves (should be) so secure that in order to get into the soft target, you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.”
But Noble warned that his experience taught him it was virtually impossible to stop killers from getting weapons.
The supporting evidence is extensive. I joined University of Chicago economist Bill Landes in studying the effects of 13 types of gun control laws on public mass shootings from 1977 to 1999. We found that permitted concealed handgun laws were the only effective measures in preventing or reducing the harm caused by these attacks. Again, attacks occurred in those tiny areas where victims weren’t able to protect themselves.
Those advocating gun-free zones argue that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders, or that arriving police will shoot the permit holders. At colleges, fears are raised that students will get drunk and misuse guns.
Out of the innumerable cases in which concealed carry holders have stopped shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and busy downtowns, no permit holder has ever shot a bystander. Nor in these cases have the police ever accidentally shot a permit holder.
Today, 12 states mandate that permit holders are allowed to carry guns on public college campuses. An additional 21 states leave it up to the university. But these legal restrictions didn’t exist before the early 1990s. Students with permits didn’t cause any problems on school property.
Accidents over the decades are exceedingly rare. There were five accidental discharges by teachers or staff — one at a K-12 school in Utah and one each at universities in Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, and Utah. All cases involved very minor injuries. None involved others getting a hold of the guns.
Gun-free zones are a magnet for murderers. Even the most ardent gun control advocate would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their home. Let’s finally stop putting them elsewhere.
John Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of “More Guns, Less Crime.”