Op-Ed: Road to bad laws paved with good intentions

March 23, 2005
National Review Online

By John R. Lott Jr.

The last ten days have seen three horrific multiple-victim public shootings: the Atlanta courthouse attack that left four murdered; the Wisconsin church shooting, where seven were murdered, and Monday's high-school shooting in Minnesota, where nine were murdered. What can be learned from these attacks? Some take the attacks as confirmation that guns should be completely banned from even courthouses, let alone schools and churches.

The following are exerpts from Lott's excellent op-ed, which can be found in its entirety here.

  • There is a broader lesson to learn from these attacks. All three attacks took place in areas where gun possession by those who did the attack as well as civilians generally was already banned — so-called "gun-free safe zones." Suppose you or your family are being stalked by a criminal who intends on harming you. Would you feel safer putting a sign in front of your home saying "This Home is a Gun-Free Zone"?
  • Bill Landes and I have examined all the multiple-victim public shootings with two or more victims in the United States from 1977 to 1999 and found that when states passed right-to-carry laws, these attacks fell by 60 percent. Deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell on average by 78 percent. No other gun-control law had any beneficial effect. Indeed, right-to-carry laws were the only policy that consistently reduced these attacks. To the extent attacks still occurred in right-to-carry states, they overwhelmingly happened in the special places within those states where concealed handguns were banned.
  • These restrictions on guns in schools weren't always in place. Prior to the end of 1995 when the Safe School Zone Act was enacted, virtually all the states that allowed citizens, whether they be teacher or principles or parents, to carry concealed handguns let them carry them on school grounds. Even Minnesota used to allow this. Some have expressed fears over letting concealed permit holders carry guns on school campuses, but over all the years that permitted guns were allowed on school property there is no evidence that these guns were used improperly or caused any accidents.
  • Police are extremely important in deterring crime, but they almost always arrive after the crime has been committed. Annual surveys of crime victims in the United States continually show that, when confronted by a criminal, people are safest if they have a gun. Just as the threat of arrest and prison can deter criminals from committing a crime, so can the fact that victims can defend themselves. Gun-control advocates conveniently ignore that the nations with the highest homicide rates have gun bans.
  • Good intentions don't necessarily make good laws. What counts is whether the laws ultimately save lives. Unfortunately, too many gun laws primarily disarm law-abiding citizens, not criminals.

    Ohio school officials admit total prevention impossible

    The Sandusky Register is reporting that area school officials are admitting "no district can make itself immune to the type of tragedy that occurred Monday in Minnesota."

    From the story:

      Superintendent Wayne Babcanec said the Norwalk school district has systematic plans in place to deal with a number of situations -- bomb scares, hostage situations, even tornados -- that could occur within its schools.

      But, he said, there is no "fail-safe method" to prevent a crisis from happening.

      "You can never be prepared for something (like) what happened in Minnesota," Babcanec said.

    On Monday, a Red Lake High School student stole his grandfather's "police-issued weapons" and murdered the police officer and his female companion. He then stole his grandfather's police belt, firearms, bullet-proof vest and patrol car and headed to the school, where he bypassed passive security measures, which included a metal detector, video cameras, and even the vaunted "no-guns" signs. The shooter killed an unarmed male security guard before opening fire on students and teachers. An unarmed female security guard was forced to flee. Defenseless security guards, teachers and students were unable to stop him, and he finally took his own life.

    Again, from the Register story:

      Many schools have emergency plans for a number of scenarios, said William Lally, superintendent of the Erie-Huron- Ottawa Educational Service Center.

      School officials confer with local law enforcement in determining their response plans, which undergo revision every year at most schools, Lally said.

      At schools in Erie County's rural districts, sheriff's deputies have taken part in "quick action deployment training" for the last four years, staging crisis situations at different schools each year, said Sheriff Terry Lyons.

      They've also implemented security measures, such as numbering windows and doors and practicing lock-down procedures, he said.

      Some schools, including Perkins Township and Sandusky, have school resource officers, who Lally said are both security consultants and deterrents to anything like the shootings in Minnesota.

      But even with the officers and the possible use of hand-held metal detectors, which every Erie County school received under a grant, no school can be completely protected, Lally said.

      "School buildings were not built to be fortresses ... they were built as pleasant learning environments," he said. "If you have someone manning (a metal detector), the first person (a gunman) is going to shoot will be the person manning that station."

    "You try the best you can to have things lined up, but you just don't know," admitted Sister Mary Jon Wagner, superintendent of Sandusky Central Catholic schools. "... You just don't know where it's going to come down."

    Related Stories:
    Red Lake High - Another in the sad legacy of victim zone tragedies

    Rash of multiple victim public shootings renews legislative debate

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