Article published Tuesday, December 6, 2016, at The Columbus Dispatch.

Should Ohio's universities be able to authorize concealed-carry on campus? Yes

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Ohio State University is still reeling from the attack last week. A terrorist followed the Islamic State playbook as he drove his car into a crowd of students and slashed others with a knife — 12 people were injured. Fortunately, a campus police officer was able to shoot the attacker in a record time of less than two minutes.

University President Michael Drake took this as evidence that only campus police should be armed on campus. Police are very important, but they virtually always arrive after the attack has occurred and they have an extremely difficult job stopping terrorists — having a uniform is often akin to wearing a neon sign saying "shoot me first."

This latest attack raises a fundamental question: Would you feel safer posting a sign announcing your home is a gun-free zone? Criminals don’t obey these signs. In fact, to criminals, gun-free zones look like easy targets. So why do we display these signs in public places?

Some in the Ohio legislature are considering whether to lift the statewide ban on permitted concealed handguns at universities. Opponents’ fears over this are exactly the same as their fears about the original permitted concealed-handgun law, and they are just as wrong.

Today, 12 states have laws mandating that public college campuses allow permitted concealed handguns. An additional 21 states leave it up to the university. Prior to the early 1990s, states allowing concealed handguns didn’t have legal restrictions, and there weren’t any problems on school property.

Permit holders are extremely law-abiding, committing any type of firearms-related violation at at a rate of just thousandths of one percentage point, and most violations are trivial. A study by the Crime Prevention Research Center found that college-age permit holders in Michigan, Nevada, and Texas are at least as responsible as older permit holders.

Over the decades, there have only been five accidental discharges by permit holders on university property. All cases involved very minor injuries. None involved someone other than the permit holder getting hold of the gun.

Fears that students will become intoxicated and misuse guns are unfounded. However young people behave in general, those who go through the permit process are very responsible, and in Ohio, only those 21 and older can get a permit.

Other concerns about mass public shootings are that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders or that police will shoot the permit holders.

In the dozens of cases where concealed-carriers have stopped mass public shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and downtowns, no permit holder has ever shot a bystander. Nor have police ever accidentally shot a permit holder.

Since at least 1950, all but four public mass shootings in America have taken place where citizens are banned from carrying guns. In Europe, every mass public shooting has occurred in a gun-free zone. And Europe is no stranger to mass public shootings. It has been host to three of the four worst K-12 school shootings and, in the past eight years, a per-capita casualty rate 50 percent higher than the US.

With dozens of recent cases where permit holders stopped what clearly would have become mass public shootings, unsurprisingly killers try to avoid resistance.

Earlier this year a young Islamic State sympathizer planned a shooting at one of the largest churches in Detroit. In a wiretap, the FBI recorded why he picked the church: “It’s easy, and a lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church. Plus it would make the news.”

These killers might be crazy, but they aren’t stupid. They want to kill as many people as possible. Killers consistently pick defenseless targets where they know no one will have a gun. Just look at the 2015 Charleston, S.C., church shooting, the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., and the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, Calif.

In late 2013, Interpol Secretary General Ron Noble warned, even with “extraordinary security,” it was virtually impossible to keep weapons out of soft targets and that means that only the terrorists will have weapons.

Gun-free zones are magnets for murderers. Even the most ardent gun-control advocate would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their home. Let’s 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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