Freedomnomics

Article published Thursday, November 19, 2015, at Investor's Business Daily.

As Paris Attacks Show, Europe In Denial About Gun Rights

By John R. Lott, Jr.

French citizens were sitting ducks last Friday. For at least 10 uninterrupted minutes, terrorists mowed down attendants at Paris' Bataclan Concert Hall. In five other coordinated attacks, terrorists were given far too much time to go about their business. But European politicians are in denial.

French President Francois Hollande immediately ordered 1,500 additional soldiers to protect the streets of Paris. After January's Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, France placed 10,000 uniformed soldiers in front of Jewish sites across the country. These troops gave only the illusion of protection.

Israel learned this lesson the hard way. In its first decades of existence, the nation responded to attacks by placing more soldiers and armed police on streets.

Unfortunately, a mass killer can target the uniformed officers first or wait for a moment when they are not present. It didn't matter how much money Israel spent. With a little patience, terrorists would find their moments to strike.

In recent years, 12% to 15% of adult Jewish civilians in Israel have been able to carry licensed firearms.

This complicates things for terrorists. Even when uniformed police leave an area, terrorists don't know whom they have to worry about.

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a leading European clergyman, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, called for Jews on the Continent to be able to carry handguns. Of course, this isn't going to happen in countries that won't even allow off-duty police officers to carry guns.

Parisians were close enough to take videos of these killers, but they were powerless to stop them.

French gun laws disarmed only the law-abiding citizens. The terrorists weren't so concerned with the laws. The eight terrorists were armed with AK-47s and explosive suicide belts. Obviously, all of this was illegal.

During the January attack in Paris, the terrorists were armed with semiautomatic handguns, automatic Kalashnikov rifles, a loaded M42 rocket launcher, 10 Molotov cocktails, 10 smoke grenades, a hand grenade and 15 sticks of dynamite.

Last year, Belgium's equally strict gun laws didn't prevent a terrorist with a violent criminal history, Mehdi Nemmouche, from obtaining a machine gun.

In 2013, Ronald Noble, then secretary-general of Interpol, a world version of the FBI, noted two means of protecting people from mass shootings. One was "an armed citizenry." The other was gun-free "enclaves" with extraordinary security measures protecting the "soft target."

Experience, Noble warned, had taught him it is virtually impossible to stop killers from getting weapons. Referring to a terrorist attack at a Kenyan mall where guns are banned, Noble said: "Ask yourself ... if that was Texas, would those guys have been able to spend hours, days, shooting people randomly? What I'm saying is it makes police around the world question their views on gun control."

Not surprisingly, mass public shooters frequently talk openly about their intention to attack where no one is armed.

Recent cases include mass killers in Charleston, S.C.; Aurora, Colo.; Santa Barbara, Calif.; and New Brunswick, Canada.

And since at least 1950, all but two of the mass public shootings in the U.S. (and every single one in Europe) have occurred in gun-free zones where general civilians aren't allowed to defend themselves.

American police tend to agree with Noble.

PoliceOne, a private organization with more than 450,000 officer members, asked them: "What would help most in preventing large-scale shootings in public?"

The most common answer was "more permissive concealed carry policies for civilians."

Eighty percent of the officers surveyed believed that letting people carry permitted, concealed handguns would reduce the number of victims from mass public shootings.

In the U.S., more than 13 million American civilians are licensed to carry concealed handguns. If not for permit holders, you would have heard of dozens more mass public shootings.

Some people are concerned that permit holders will use their weapons to threaten others. But U.S. data show that permit holders are extremely law-abiding.

Their permits are revoked at a rate of just tenths of one percentage point. Only a very small portion of those revocations are due to firearms violations now we're talking about thousandths of a percentage point. Police are convicted of firearms violations at a higher rate.

Others fear permit holders will try their best but end up accidentally shooting bystanders or shot at themselves by arriving police.

In fact, there's never been such a case.

If there's a problem with permit holders, it's that we could use still more of them. That's particularly true in Washington, D.C., where this week ISIS is threatening to attack.

Earlier this year, Europol Director Rob Wainwright said it's "extremely difficult for even very well-functioning counterterrorist agencies, such as we have in France, to stop every attack." The truth of this statement has become painfully apparent.

Police and security systems are critically important, but an effective backup plan is needed. We know that armed self-defense saves lives.

Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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