Article published Tuesday, June 30, 2015, at PanAm Post.

Gun Control Helps Shooters, Not Victims

By John R. Lott, Jr.

With just two exceptions, since at least 1950, all the mass public shootings in the United States have occurred in so-called gun-free zones, places where citizens can’t have guns for protection. Gun-free zones are rare in the United States, but those are the places where these killers go time after time.

There is a reason why every city or country around the world that has banned guns has seen its murder rates rise. Law-abiding citizens, not criminals, obey these bans. Instead of making places safer, disarming law abiding citizens left them sitting ducks.

The vast majority of mass public shooters in the United States kill people to get attention. They want to commit suicide, but they want to do so in a way that will get them attention, so people will know that they have been here. The more people that they can kill, the more attention they will receive.

Mass public killers constantly talk about finding places where their victims are easy targets. This month’s killer of nine people at a Charleston church initially considered targeting the College of Charleston, but decided against it because it had security personnel.

Last June, Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in Santa Barbara, California, explained his own choice. In his 141-page “manifesto,” Rodger turned down targets because he worried that someone with a gun would stop his killing spree.

That same month, Justin Bourque in Canada shot three people to death. His Facebook page made fun of gun bans, with pictures of defenseless victims explaining to killers that they weren’t allowed to have guns.

The diary of the Aurora, Colorado, Batman movie-theater killer, James Holmes, was just released a month ago. He was considering both attacking an airport and a movie theater, but he turned down the airport option because of their “substantial security.” Out of the seven theaters showing the Batman movie premiere within 20 minutes of Holmes’s apartment, only one banned permitted concealed handguns. He didn’t go to the closest nor the largest, but to the one that banned self-defense.

Wanting easy targets is understandable. There is a long list of mass public shootings that have been stopped by citizens with permitted concealed handguns; though when people stop these attacks, they don’t get much media attention.

With mass public shooters planning these attacks for at least six months in advance, attackers have plenty of time to figure out how to obtain a gun. Background checks rarely work. The terrorists who attacked France in January were armed with numerous semi-automatic handguns, automatic Kalashnikov rifles, an M42 rocket launcher, 10 Molotov cocktails, 10 smoke grenades, a hand grenade, and 15 sticks of dynamite. So much for the country’s ban on all these items.

Despite strict gun control, seven European countries have a higher death rate from mass public shootings than the United States.

Ask yourself: would you feel safer with a sign on your home saying “this house is a gun-free zone”? But if you wouldn’t put these signs on your home, why put 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).

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