Freedomnomics

Article published Tuesday, November 17, 2015, at Michigan Live.

Keeping guns out gets us nowhere in staying safer

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Suppose a criminal comes upon your home and sees a sign announcing, "Gun Free Zone." How would he respond? Unless he thinks that the homeowner is playing a joke on him, the sign would put his mind at ease and make him more likely to break in.

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy, argued that such signs make us safer, attacking my October testimony before the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mass public killers want to commit suicide, but they also want to gain media attention by taking people with them. They don't normally just run outside and start shooting. These are cold, calculating killers who spend a half-year or more planning their attacks, and they often express their desire to attack an area where guns are prohibited.

The Charleston killer's first choice was the College of Charleston. After realizing that the college had armed guards, he opted for a church instead.

Particularly telling is the recently released diary of James Holmes, the man who killed 12 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. In the diary, Holmes considers attacking an airport but rules this out because of "substantial security." I looked into the locations of the movie theaters and found Holmes could have gone to seven different theaters, all showing the Batman premiere and all within 20 minutes of his apartment. Only one banned permitted concealed handguns. That's the one he attacked. It wasn't even the closest theater.

Elliot Rodger, who shot three people to death in Santa Barbara, Calif., explained his choice. In his 141-page "Manifesto," Rodger turned down targets because he was concerned that someone would cut short his killing spree.

Justin Bourque gunned down three people in Canada. His Facebook page contained cartoons of defenseless victims explaining to killers that they weren't allowed to have their guns.

I've compiled reports on numerous cases where permit holders have clearly stopped what would have been mass public shootings, it is understandable these killers avoid places where they can't kill a large number of people.

I began my testimony to the state Senate Judiciary Committee by pointing out how incredibly law-abiding permit holders are. Webster says that I characterized permit holders as "good [people] who always have the good judgment and skills necessary to successfully and safely defend themselves with guns."

Permit holders are not perfect, but they are extremely law-abiding compared to any other group in the population, even police. There are now 13 million permit holders nationwide and a half-million in Michigan. In Michigan, permit holders lose their permits at a tiny rate, just tenths of one percentage point. It is at an even smaller rate that they lose their permits due to firearms violations. College-age permit holders are no different.

Webster links to Violence Policy Center data on cases where permit holders have killed people. This data, however, is terribly flawed. My research shows the center quadruple counts legitimate self-defense cases as criminal murders. Suicides that don't even involve guns are blamed on concealed-carry permits

People often fear that permit holders who try to stop mass public shootings will either accidentally shoot bystanders or be shot by arriving police. In fact, such cases have never occurred.

Webster is not balanced in his discussion of the research on concealed handgun permits. University of Chicago economist Bill Landes and I in studied 13 types of gun control laws and their effects on public mass shootings from 1977 to 1999. We found that concealed handgun permit laws were the only effective measures. Again, attacks occurred in those small areas where victims were not able to protect themselves.

Webster ignores that peer-reviewed study after peer-reviewed study finds that right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime. By contrast, no peer-reviewed, U.S. study by an economist or criminologist finds an increase in rates of murder, rape or robbery. He also incorrectly describes what the National Research Council report found, where they didn't take a stand on any gun control law, but their own estimates showed right-to-carry laws reduced murder rates.

Criminals see victims in gun-free zones as sitting ducks. Even the most ardent gun control advocate would not put "Gun-Free Zone" signs on their home. Let's finally stop putting them elsewhere.

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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