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 1993? 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 police. 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 news. 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 approach. 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 roommates. 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 protection. 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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