Article published Friday, March 25, 2016, at The Tennessean.

Allowing guns at Legislative Plaza would increase safety

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Democrats sure seem worried that there will soon be no safe place left for them in Nashville. The Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building, where state legislators have their offices, were caught up in a debate last month about taking down its “gun-free zone” signs.

The problem with gun-free zones, which ban law-abiding civilians from carrying, is that they don’t exactly scare off criminals. In fact, they have just the opposite effect. Disarming everyone, including legislators or staffers, on their way to and from the buildings leaves them easy targets to criminals and terrorists.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Davidson County) worries the plaza will no longer be a safe place for his children to visit. He fears the legislature’s “politically charged environment” will lead to violence.

Tennessee has 536,000 handgun permit holders, more than 11 percent of the 21-and-over population. How do Rep. Clemmons and other Democrat lawmakers ever go to a mall, a restaurant or a movie theater?

With Tennessee legislators working to eliminate gun-free zones throughout the state, allowing guns in legislative buildings lets legislators show they really believe in the benefits of concealed carry.

At least 17 states allow some form of permitted handgun carry within their legislative public areas. Of those states, at least 10 allow permitted carry in their capitols.

For example, Kentucky allows permitted concealed carry in legislative areas, including its Capitol. If you attend a legislative meeting, you must carry your gun openly, though no permit is required.

In Texas, permit holders are allowed to get through Capitol security much faster. They can skip the metal detector, since they have already passed a criminal background check. After a while, lobbyists and journalists figured this out and got their own handgun carry permits.

The same concerns being raised regarding concealed carry in the Legislative Plaza were raised when Tennessee first adopted a right-to-carry law in 1994. But permit holders have been extremely law-abiding. Over the last five years, permits have been revoked for any reason at annual rates of just tenths of one percent.

Nationally, permits are revoked for firearms-related violations at thousandths or tens of thousandths of one percent. It is hard to think of any other group in the country that is anywhere near as law-abiding. Police are very rarely convicted of firearm violations, but they’re convicted six times more often than permit holders.

Those who want to keep the Legislative Plaza ban on civilians carrying guns worry that they will accidentally fire their guns. Yet, despite all the experience in other states of citizens carrying guns at their legislative public areas and capitols, we have been only able to find a single accidental discharge in Kentucky in January 2014, and no one was harmed.

In addition, since at least 1950, all but two American public mass shootings have taken place where civilians are banned from carrying guns. In Europe, every mass shooting has occurred in a gun-free zone.

Police are extremely important. Indeed, they are probably the single most important factor in reducing crime. But uniformed police have an extremely difficult job stopping terrorists, as they are often the first targets in any attack.

Those advocating gun-free zones claim permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders, or that arriving police will shoot the permit holders.

So many times, concealed carry holders have stopped shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and busy downtowns. Not once have these permit holders ever shot a bystander. Nor, in these cases, have the police ever accidentally shot a permit holder.

Gun-free zones are magnets for murderers. Even the most ardent gun control advocate would never put "gun-free zone" signs on his home. Let's stop putting them elsewhere, including the Legislative Plaza.

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