Article published Thursday, November 20, 2014, at Investor's Business Daily.

America Should Make It Easier To Carry Guns

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Terrorism is forcing Israel to let civilians carry guns in even the most sensitive religious areas in the wake of Palestinian attacks in places from a sidewalk to the Kehilat Yaakov synagogue. Weapons have ranged from knives and guns to a car.

These attacks mirror the recent spate of "lone wolf" terrorist attacks around the world, including a hatchet attack in New York City, a beheading in Oklahoma and a shooting in Ottawa, Ontario. Yet Israel's response couldn't be more different.

Such attacks are likely to continue. Just this past Sunday, in the video of Peter Kassig's beheading, IS called for more attacks by its followers. Simply by using the Internet, IS has encouraged attacks that have involved no apparent planning or coordination with others, without leaving much of an advance warning about their intentions.

President Obama has responded by beefing up security at federal buildings. But if announcing such increased security has any effect, it simply makes it more likely that other targets will be hit, as there are so many possible targets.

Canada rushed to give security agencies more detention and surveillance power. It can't hurt, but lone attackers are unlikely to send incriminating emails that law enforcement can intercept.

Using screening also has its limits. The killers in the attack on the Canadian Parliament and the Israeli synagogue found ways around background checks and still illegally obtained guns.

But what is the backup plan if security measures fail? An armed citizenry is one answer.

Last year, Interpol's secretary general, Ron Noble, noted that there are two ways to protect people from such mass shootings:

"One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves (should be) so secure that in order to get into the soft target, you're going to have to pass through extraordinary security."

"You can't have armed police forces everywhere," he warned.

The risk of these secure areas is that terrorists will be the only ones with weapons there.

We can benefit from looking at what some countries have learned about terrorism. One is that terrorists enjoy huge strategic advantages as they pick the time and place of attacks.

For decades, Israel responded to terrorist attacks by putting more armed police and military on the streets.

Unfortunately, a mass killer can either wait for officers to leave the scene or kill them first. Israel found that no matter how much money went into security, terrorists patiently waited for the right opportunity to strike.

In the early 1970s, Israel started letting adult civilian Jews carry guns. It peaked in the early 2000s, when about 15% of Israel's adult civilians Jews were licensed.

With possible victims carrying concealed handguns, the terrorists don't know who can defend themselves and don't know who to attack first. Terrorists have to resort to less-effective, more secretive attacks, such as bombings.

In recent years, the Israeli government has become more restrictive on permits. Former Jerusalem Police Chief Aryeh Amit spoke out after this week's synagogue attack: "Every citizen who has a gun should carry it. The way the government has been handling the escalation in attacks is not satisfactory, and one cannot be surprised that attacks continue, for the matter is not being handled as it should be."

Killers seek out places where victims are sitting ducks. Elliot Rodger, who shot to death three people in Santa Barbara this summer, explained why he picked his target. His 141-page "manifesto" makes it clear that he feared someone with a gun would stop him before he could kill enough people.

Nor is he alone. Since at least 1950, virtually all the mass public shootings in the U.S. and all the attacks in Europe have taken place where guns carried by civilians are banned.

In the U.S., at least 12 million Americans have concealed handgun permits. Indeed, in September the Oklahoma beheading terrorist was stopped from killing a second victim because a concealed handgun permit holder, Mark Vaughan, acted quickly and shot the terrorist.

More can be done. In New York City, very few permits are issued. Just 5,700 were active in December 2010 — hundredths of one percent of the adult population. In Los Angeles, there are only a couple hundred permit holders out of an adult population of 8 million.

Let's not leave Americans as sitting ducks. When government fails to protect people, as it surely will, letting people defend themselves would provide another line of defense against any attacks.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the recently released “At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?”

Home (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

Academic papers:

Social Science Research Network

Book Reviews:

For a list of book reviews on The Bias Against Guns, click here.

List of my Op-eds

Posts by topic

Appalachian law school attack

Baghdad murder rate

Arming Pilots

Fraudulent website pretending to be run by me

The Merced Pitchfork Killings and Vin Suprynowicz's quote

Ayres and Donohue

Stanford Law Review

Mother Jones article


Craig Newmark

Eric Rasmusen

William Sjostrom

Dr. T's

Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper