When tragic events such as school shootings occur, some people seem tempted to call for “gun free zones”, in which it would be unlawful to have a firearm, and/or where the penalties for having a firearm would be increased dramatically. The belief that these “gun free zones” will prevent crime relies upon flawed reasoning, namely the belief that criminals will be deterred by these new “gun free zone” laws, even know they are not deterred by longstanding laws against murder, armed robbery, etc. Perhaps looking at a few high profile shootings will better illustrate the point.
1. The Columbine High School Massacre
The Columbine High School massacre occurred on Tuesday, April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine in unincorporated Jefferson County, Colorado, near Denver and Littleton. Two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, embarked on a shooting rampage, killing 12 students and a teacher, as well as wounding 23 others, before committing suicide. The killers unlawfully brought guns into their high school, and proceeded to unlawfully kill innocent people, before unlawfully killing themselves. Guns were not allowed in the school, and neither was murder, yet law did not deter these people who were bent on committing murder then suicide. Perhaps if the teachers had been given the option to voluntarily receive training and a concealed handgun to defend themselves and their students, this tragedy could have been averted or at least lessened.
2. The Westroads Mall Shooting
The Westroads Mall shooting was a murder-suicide that occurred on December 5, 2007, at the Von Maur department store in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, United States. Nineteen-year-old Robert A. Hawkins killed nine people (including himself) and wounded four, two of them critically. The mall was a “gun free” zone as well, meaning that law abiding citizens were not allowed to carry a gun for self defense. The killer who was bent on murdering as many people as he could, before committing suicide, wasn’t deterred by the laws against murder, nor was he deterred by the sign in front of the mall which stated guns were not allowed.
3. The Virginia Tech Massacre
The Virginia Tech massacre was a school shooting which occurred on April 16th, 2007, at the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Virginia. The perpetrator, Seung-Hui Cho, killed 32 people and wounded many more before committing suicide. Virginia tech was a “gun free zone”, which meant the students and professors were forbidden to carry concealed handguns for their own protection. This didn’t deter the gunman, who just wanted to kill his fellow students before taking his own life. Again, a person who wants to die wasn’t deterred by the prospect of jail time for having a gun in the “gun free zone”, or even the possibility of being executed for committing murder.
4. The Northern Illinois University Shooting
The Northern Illinois University shooting was an incident that took place on February 14, 2008, during which a gunman shot multiple people on the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, before committing suicide. Five of his victims were killed, eighteen were wounded. NIU’s campus was a gun free zone as well, and indeed the entire state of Illinois prohibits concealed carry. Once more we see that a gunman bent on murder and suicide didn’t follow the rules of the “gun free zone”, but his victims did follow the rules and were left defenseless.
5. The Lane Bryant Shooting
The Lane Bryant shooting was an incident of mass murder and armed robbery at a Lane Bryant clothing outlet in the Brookside Marketplace in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, Illinois, that occurred on February 2, 2008. The shooting resulted in five fatalities, and the injury of another. The killer used his gun to subdue 6 women, before binding and killing them. The gunman escaped and is still at large, despite the fact that an armed police officer was just a couple thousand feet away. Being in the state of Illinois, concealed carry is illegal, so all 6 of the women were defenseless. The gunman, who was willing to risk the death penalty or life in prison for murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery, wasn’t deterred by the law against carrying a concealed handgun. The victims, being law abiding people, followed the law and were left defenseless.
6. The Fort Hood Shootings
A murderer who ignored the Army’s strict rules against carrying a loaded gun on a military base killed 13 soldiers and wounded dozens more. The victims, who abided by the Army’s gun control rules, were defenseless. The deadly shooting spree was only stopped when a civilian police officer arrived and shot the gunman.
7. The Mercaz HaRav Massacre
A lone gunman shot multiple students at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, a religious school in Jerusalem, Israel. Eight students and the shooter were killed and ten more were wounded, five of them in serious to critical condition. The attack began at 8:36 p.m. local time and ended about twenty minutes later. The attacker was not stopped by the police, but rather by a student, Yitzhak Dadon, whom saved the lives of countless students by lawfully shooting the attacker with his personal firearm. This is a clear example of a student who was permitted by law to carry a concealed handgun, and who used this handgun to stop the criminal and save lives. One can only wonder how many lives at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Lane Bryant, Northern Illinois University, and the Westroads mall could have been saved if the law abiding victims and bystanders had been allowed to carry a gun for self defense.
The above tragic and horrific events are just a few examples, each of which show that a person who is willing to commit a serious crime like murder or armed robbery, or a person who is planning to kill themselves, will not even give a second thought the penalty for carrying a gun. They know that if they are caught, the gun possession charge will be the least of their worries, or they are too mentally disturbed to think rationally about and care about the penalties. In short, criminals ignore gun control laws.
On the other hand, the law abiding students, teachers, and shoppers who were unable to defend themselves had a lot to live for, and didn’t want to risk their freedom and futures by facing a gun possession charge. A teacher who unlawfully carried a gun in self defense could lose their job, and face jail time. A college student who illegally carried a gun for self defense could be expelled and face bleak career prospects, in addition to the specter of a prison sentence. A mall shopper who unlawfully carried a gun would face similar prospects. This shows that the gun free zones only disarm the law abiding citizens who we don’t need to fear, and won’t deter the killers.
Note: To those who believe that a nation-wide gun ban would stop criminals from having guns: See this article, which discusses how the British have seen a doubling of gun-related crime since their strict national ban went into effect.