Article published Tuesday, February 26, 2008, at Investors Business
Columbine To Va. Tech To NIU: Gun-Free Zones Or Killing Fields?
By John R. Lott, Jr.
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.
Thursday, five people were killed in the city council chambers in
Kirkwood, Mo. There was even a police officer already there when the
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 werereduced to futilely throwing chairs at
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 theTinley 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 peoplecarry concealed handguns, but private property
owners are allowed topost 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
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
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
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.