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? On Thursday, amid opposition from state education leaders, the Assembly Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Assembly Bill 148, which would allow concealed-weapons permit holders to carry at public college campuses and schools under some circumstances.
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, there have been no exceptions. Every mass public shooting has occurred in a gun-free zone. And Europe is no stranger to mass shootings. It 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.
Killers often openly talk about their desire to attack where guns are banned. Last June, Elliot Rodger, who killed six 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.
That same month, Justin Bourque shot to death three people in Canada. His Facebook page made fun of gun bans, with pictures of defenseless victims explaining to killers that they weren’t allowed to have their guns.
In the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, out of seven theaters showing the Batman movie premiere within 20 minutes of the suspect’s apartment, only one banned permitted concealed handguns. The suspect didn’t go to the closest or the largest, but to the one that banned self-defense. Time after time the story is the same.
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.
There is extensive evidence to back this up. 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 raise a number of concerns. They argue that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders. Or that arriving police will shoot anyone with a gun, including 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, 11 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. Indeed, a study this past year by the Crime Prevention Research Center found that college-age permit holders in Texas and Michigan (two states that break down revocation data by age) are at least as responsible as older permit holders.
Accidents over the decades are exceedingly rare. There were three accidental discharges by teachers or staff — one at a K-12 school in Utah and one each at universities in Colorado and Idaho. All cases involved very minor injuries. And the fear that permit holders will lose control of their guns with someone else using them have been completely unfounded.
Gun-free zones are a magnet for those who want to kill people. 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 R. Lott Jr. is a former chief economist for the United States Sentencing Commission and the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.