How to Stop Mass Public Shootings
                             by John Lott
                       (originally published in
                   L.A. Times, May 25, 1998, p. B5)

     It is too bad Barbra Streisand won't debate Charlton Heston over
the meaning of the 2nd Amendment.  Yet, as entertaining as that debate
would be, the more important question is: Would gun control have
prevented the horrific shootings discussed in her movie based on Colin
Ferguson's rampage, which took six lives on the Long Island Railroad in

     In Streisand's movie, the solution is clear: more regulations of
guns.  However, what might appear to be the most obvious policy may
actually cost lives.  When gun-control laws are passed, it is
law-abiding citizens, not would-be criminals, who adhere to them. 
Police officers or armed guards cannot be stationed everywhere, so
gun-control laws risk creating situations in which the good guys cannot
defend themselves.

     Other countries have followed a different solution.  Twenty or so
years ago in Israel, there were many instances of terrorists pulling
out machine guns and firing away at civilians in public.  However, with
expanded concealed-handgun use by Israeli citizens, terrorists soon
found ordinary people pulling pistols on them.  Suffice it to say,
terrorists in Israel no longer engage in such public shootings.

     The one recent shooting of schoolchildren in the Middle East
further illustrates these points.  On March 13, 1997, seven Israeli
girls were shot to death by a Jordanian soldier while they visited
Jordan's so-called Island of Peace.  The Times reported that the
Israelis had "complied with Jordanian requests to leave their weapons
behind when they entered the border enclave.  Otherwise, they might
have been able to stop the shooting, several parents said."

     Hardly mentioned in the massive news coverage of the
school-related shootings during the past year is how they ended.  Two
of the four shootings were stopped by a citizen displaying a gun.  In
the October 1997 shooting spree at a high school in Pearl, Miss., which
left two students dead, an assistant principal retrieved a gun from his
car and physically immobilized the shooter while waiting for the

     More recently, the school-related shooting in Edinboro, Pa., which
left one teacher dead, was stopped only after a bystander pointed a
shotgun at the shooter when he started to reload his gun.  The police
did not arrive for another 10 minutes.

     Who knows how many lives were saved by these prompt responses?

     Anecdotal stories are not sufficient to resolve this debate. 
Together with my colleague William Landes, I have compiled data on all
the multiple-victim public shootings occurring in the U.S. from 1977 to
1995.  Included were incidents where at least two people were killed or
injured in a public place; to focus on the type of shooting seen in the
Ferguson rampage, we excluded gang wars or shootings that were the
byproduct of another crime, such as robbery.  The U.S. averaged 21 such
shootings annually, with an average of 1.8 people killed and 2.7
wounded in each one.

     We examined a range of different gun laws, such as waiting periods
as well as methods of deterrence, such as the death penalty.  However,
only one policy was found to reduce deaths and injuries from these
shootings: allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns.

     The effect of "shall-issue" concealed handgun laws, which give
adults the right to carry concealed handguns if they do not have a
criminal record or a history of significant mental illness, was
dramatic.  Thirty-one states now have such laws.  When states passed
them during the 19 years we studied, the number of multiple- victim
public shootings declined by 84%.  Deaths from these shootings
plummeted on average by 90%, injuries by 82%.  Higher arrest rates and
increased use of the death penalty slightly reduced the incidence of
these events, but we could not conclusively determine such an effect.

     Unfortunately, much of the public policy debate is driven by
lopsided coverage of gun use.  Horrific events like the Colin Ferguson
shooting receive massive news coverage, as they should, but the 2.5
million times each year that people use guns defensively -- including
cases in which public shootings are stopped before they happen -- are
ignored.  Dramatic stories of mothers using guns to prevent their
children from being kidnapped by carjackers seldom even make the local

     Concealed handgun laws also deter other crimes from occurring.  I
recently analyzed the FBI's crime data for all 3,054 counties in the
United States from 1977 to 1994.  The more people who obtained permits,
the more violent crime declined.  After concealed handgun laws have
been in effect for 5 years, murders declined by at least 15%, rapes by
9% and robberies by 11%.  Permit holders were found to be extremely
law-abiding, and data on accidental deaths and suicides indicate that
there were no increases.

     The possibility of a law-abiding citizen carrying a concealed
handgun is apparently enough to convince many would-be killers that
they will not be successful.  Without permitting law-abiding citizens
the right to carry guns, we risk leaving victims as sitting ducks.


                    The Cold, Hard Facts About Guns
                             by John Lott

                       (originally published in
                 Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1998, at 27)

     America may indeed be obsessed with guns, but much of what passes
as fact simply isn't true.  And these misimpressions have real costs
for people's safety.  Many myths needlessly frighten people and prevent
them from defending themselves most effectively.

     Myth No. 1:  When one is attacked, passive behavior is the safest

     The Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey
reports that the probability of serious injury from an attack is 2.5
times greater for women offering no resistance than for women resisting
with a gun.  Men also benefit from using a gun, but the benefits are
smaller: offering no resistance is 1.4 times more likely to result in
serious injury than resisting with a gun.

     Myth No. 2:  Friends or relatives are the most likely killers. 
The myth is usually based on two claims: 1) 58 percent of murder
victims are killed by either relatives or acquaintances and 2) anyone
could be a murderer.

     With the broad definition of "acquaintances" used in the FBI's
Uniform Crime Reports, most victims are indeed classified as knowing
their killer.  However, what is not made clear is that acquaintance
murder primarily includes drug buyers killing drug pushers, cabdrivers
killed by first-time customers, gang members killing other gang
members, prostitutes killed by their clients, and so on.  Only one
city, Chicago, reports a precise breakdown on the nature of
acquaintance killings: between 1990 and 1995 just 17 percent of murder
victims were either family members, friends, neighbors and/or

     Murderers also are not your average citizen.  For example, about
90 percent of adult murderers have already had a criminal record as an
adult.  Murderers are overwhelmingly young males with low IQs and who
have difficult times getting along with others. Furthermore,
unfortunately, murder is disproportionately committed against blacks
and by blacks.

     Myth No. 3:  The United States has such a high murder rate because
Americans own so many guns.

     There is no international evidence backing this up.  The Swiss,
New Zealanders and Finns all own guns as frequently as Americans, yet
in 1995 Switzerland had a murder rate 40 percent lower than Germany's,
and New Zealand had one lower than Australia's.  Finland and Sweden
have very different gun ownership rates, but very similar murder rates. 
Israel, with a higher gun ownership rate than the U.S., has a murder
rate 40 percent below Canada's.  When one studies all countries rather
than just a select few as is usually done, there is absolutely no
relationship between gun ownership and murder.

     Myth No. 4:  If law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry
concealed handguns, people will end up shooting each other after
traffic accidents as well as accidentally shooting police officers.

     Millions of people currently hold concealed handgun permits, and
some states have issued them for as long as 60 years.  Yet, only one
permit holder has ever been arrested for using a concealed handgun
after a traffic accident and that case was ruled as self-defense.  The
type of person willing to go through the permitting process is
extremely law-abiding.  In Florida, almost 444,000 licenses were
granted from 1987 to 1997, but only 84 people have lost their licenses
for felonies involving firearms.  Most violations that lead to permits
being revoked involve accidentally carrying a gun into restricted
areas, like airports or schools.  In Virginia, not a single permit
holder has committed a violent crime.  Similarly encouraging results
have been reported for Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Texas and Tennessee (the only other states where information
is available).

     Myth No. 5:  The family gun is more likely to kill you or someone
you know than to kill in self-defense.

     The studies yielding such numbers never actually inquired as to
whose gun was used in the killing.  Instead, if a household owned a gun
and if a person in that household or someone they knew was shot to
death while in the home, the gun in the household was blamed.  In fact,
virtually all the killings in these studies were committed by guns
brought in by an intruder.  No more than four percent of the gun deaths
can be attributed to the homeowner's gun.  The very fact that most
people were killed by intruders also surely raises questions about why
they owned guns in the first place and whether they had sufficient

     How many attacks have been deterred from ever occurring by the
potential victims owning a gun?  My own research finds that more
concealed handguns, and increased gun ownership generally,
unambiguously deter murders, robbery, and aggravated assaults.  This is
also in line with the well-known fact that criminals prefer attacking
victims that they consider weak.

     These are only some of the myths about guns and crime that drive
the public policy debate.  We must not lose sight of the ultimate
question: Will allowing law- abiding citizens to own guns save lives? 
The evidence strongly indicates that it does.

                                 * * * 

     John Lott is the John M. Olin Law and Economics fellow at the
University of Chicago School of Law, and the author of "More Guns, Less
Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 1998).

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