The Tragedy of Gun-Free Zones
Commentary by Dr. Michael S. Brown
An anti-gun story by J. Portner, an assistant editor at Education Week, recently appeared in the Washington Post under the title, "Loopholes Allow Guns in Schools".
The well known federal law against bringing guns within 1,000 feet of schools does not apply to police officers, citizens with a license to carry a concealed weapon, or in some cases, to school employees. Although the author could not cite any cases where this had resulted in a death or injury, the premise was that this violates the spirit of the law and is somehow wrong.
Like many other alarmist articles on guns and schools, the obligatory reference to Columbine was used to heighten the sense of panic in the reader, despite the fact that the Columbine example tells us nothing about the behavior of armed adults. The article is short on logic, but provides a good example of the visceral fear of guns and distrust of gun owners that is deeply felt by many writers in the elite media.
In spite of the fact that mass murders are very rare, Americans have been force fed innumerable images of these terrible crimes. Each media feeding frenzy includes a call for more laws. But do laws prohibiting guns in certain places really prevent Columbine-type tragedies? In a word, no.
A striking paradox is associated with these mass murders. They are much more likely to occur in areas that have been designated as gun free zones.
Post Offices were the first buildings associated by the media with mass shootings, in this case by disgruntled workers who were said to "go postal". The fact that guns were prohibited in Post Offices was well publicized.
Office buildings, hospitals, convenience stores, TV studios, chain restaurants and day care centers have all been targets of crazed killers intent on running up a large score of victims before they finally kill themselves. All of these enterprises prevent employees from arming themselves, even if they have a state-issued license granting them that right.
Schools became popular targets for young mass murderers in the mid 1990s, around the time that the Gun Free School Zones act of 1994 was enacted. This law and similar local laws were targeted at gang related violence, but had the unfortunate consequence of making schools a more attractive target for disturbed teens who wanted to end their own lives with a dramatic killing spree.
In 1999, John Lott and William Landes published an extensive statistical study of multiple shooting incidents. They showed that mass shootings occur less often in areas where responsible citizens are allowed permits to carry weapons discretely.
Have you ever heard of a mass shooting in a police station, at a pistol range, or at a gun show? Suicidal mass murderers may be insane, but they are not necessarily stupid. They always select a soft target for their final acts of violence. This principle also applies to many other types of crime.
Some corporate managers are aware of this situation and resist pressure to put up the "no guns allowed" sign. Even if company policy prevents employees from being armed, it is a mistake to publicize that fact.
This is not a new concept. A classic case occurred in the late 1970's in the Washington D.C. area. A pizza delivery driver was fired after he drove off a robber with his handgun. After this was publicized, the area manager made the mistake of announcing on television that the drivers were all unarmed. The company was then plagued by a wave of robberies until the policy was changed, at which time robberies dropped dramatically.
The emotional reaction of the gun haters after a mass shooting is that we must further tighten the gun laws. Even if this response makes some people feel good, reality tells us that it isn't the best answer. Expecting a deranged, suicidal individual to honor a law prohibiting guns is sheer utopian fantasy. Creating and publicizing a gun free zone will, in fact, increase the chances of the kind of tragedy we seek to prevent.
How many of us, no matter how much we hate guns, would be willing to put a sign stating, "We have no guns here", on our home? Common sense tells us that this is an invitation to criminals. This same simple concept applies to schools and other public places.
Some people will always have an unreasonable fear of weapons and a desire to impose their will on society. We must not let their phobia cloud our thinking. Exploiting our school children and putting them at risk to promote a misguided political agenda is criminally negligent.
Study of multiple victim public shootings
John Lott, William Landes
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