School Shootings: Gun-Free Zones Or Killing Fields?
School Shootings: Gun-Free Zones Or Killing Fields?
John R. Lott, Jr.
As published in Investors Business Daily
As Northern Illinois University restarts classes this week, one thing is clear: Six minutes proved too long. It took six minutes before the police were able to enter the classroom that horrible Thursday, and in that short time five people were murdered, 16 wounded.
Six minutes is actually record-breaking speed for the police arriving at such an attack, but it was simply not fast enough. Still, the police were much faster than at the Virginia Tech attack last year.
The previous Thursday, five people were killed in the city council chambers in Kirkwood, Mo. There was even a police officer already there when the attack occurred.
But, as happens time after time in these attacks when uniformed police are there, the killers either wait for the police to leave the area or they are the first people killed. In Kirkwood, the police officer was killed immediately when the attack started. People cowered or were reduced to futilely throwing chairs at the killer.
Just like attacks last year at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb., the Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City and the recent attack at the Tinley Park Mall in Illinois, or all the public school attacks, they had one thing in common: They took place in “gun-free zones,” where private citizens were not allowed to carry their guns with them.
The malls in Omaha and Salt Lake City were in states that let people carry concealed handguns, but private property owners are allowed to post signs that ban guns; those malls were among the few places in their states that chose such a ban.
In the Trolley Square attack, an off-duty police officer fortunately violated the ban and stopped the attack. The attack at Virginia Tech or the other public school attacks occur in some of the few areas within their states that people are not allowed to carry concealed handguns.
It is not just recent killings that are occurring in these gun-free zones. The Columbine High School shooting left 13 murdered in 1999; Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, had 23 who were fatally shot by a deranged man in 1991; and a McDonald’s in Southern California had 21 people shot dead in 1984.
Nor are these horrible incidents limited to just gun-free zones in the U.S. In 1996, Martin Bryant killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Australia. In the last half-dozen years, European countries — including France, Germany and Switzerland — have experienced multiple-victim shootings. The worst in Germany resulted in 17 deaths; in Switzerland, one attack claimed the lives of 14 regional legislators.
At some point you would think the media would notice that something is going on here, that these murderers aren’t just picking their targets at random. And this pattern isn’t really too surprising. Most people understand that guns deter criminals.
If a killer were stalking your family, would you feel safer putting a sign out front announcing, “This home is a gun-free zone”? But that is what all these places did.
Even when attacks occur, having civilians with permitted concealed handguns limits the damage. A major factor in determining how many people are harmed by these killers is the amount of time that elapses between when the attack starts and someone is able to arrive on the scene with a gun.
In cases from the Colorado Springs church shooting last December, in which a parishioner who was given permission by the minister to carry her concealed gun into the church quickly stopped the murder, to an attack last year in downtown Memphis to the Appalachian Law School to high schools in such places as Pearl, Miss., concealed handgun permit holders have stopped attacks well before uniformed police could possibly have arrived. Just a few weeks ago, Israeli teachers stopped a terrorist attack at a school in their country.
Indeed, despite the fears being discussed about the risks of concealed handgun permit holders, I haven’t found one of these multiple-victim public shootings where a permit holder has accidentally shot a bystander.
With about 5 million Americans currently with concealed handgun permits in the U.S., and with states starting to have right-to-carry laws for as long as 80 years, we have a lot of experience with these laws and one thing is very clear: Concealed handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding. Those who lose their permits for any gun-related violation are measured in the hundredths or thousandths of a percentage point.
We also have a lot of experience with permitted concealed handguns in schools. Prior to the 1995 Safe School Zone Act, states with right-to-carry laws let teachers or others carry concealed handguns at school. There is not a single instance that I or others have found where this produced a single problem.
Though in a minority, a number of universities — from large public schools such as Colorado State and the University of Utah to small private schools such as Hamline in Minnesota — let students carry concealed handguns on school property.
Many more schools, from Dartmouth College to Boise State University, let professors carry concealed handguns. Again, with no evidence of problems.
Few know that Dylan Klebold, one of the two Columbine killers, was closely following Colorado legislation that would have let citizens carry a concealed handgun. Klebold strongly opposed the legislation and openly talked about it.
No wonder, as the bill being debated would have allowed permitted guns to be carried on school property. It is quite a coincidence that he attacked Columbine High School the very day the legislature was scheduled to vote on the bill. With all the media coverage of the types of guns used and how the criminal obtained the gun, at some point the news media might begin to mention the one common feature of these attacks: They keep occurring in gun-free zones.
Gun-free zones are a magnet for these attacks.
John Lott is the author of the book, Freedomnomics upon which this piece is based and is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland.