How to Stop School Shootings
How to Stop School Shootings
By John R. Lott, Jr

This week’s horrific shootings in Arkansas have, predictably, spurred calls or more gun control. But it’s worth noting that the shootings occurred in one of the few places in Arkansas where possessing a gun is illegal. Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi the three states that have had deadly shootings in public schools over the past half-year all allow law-abiding adults to carry concealed handgun for self-protection, except in public schools. Indeed, federal law generally prohibits guns within 1000 feet of a school.

Gun prohibitionists concede that banning guns around schools has not quite worked as intended but their response has been to call for more regulations of guns. Yet 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. Obviously the police cannot be everywhere, so these laws risk creating situations in which the good guys cannot defend themselves from the bad ones.

Consider a fact hardly mentioned during the massive news coverage of the October 1997 shooting spree at a high school in Pearl, Miss.: An assistant principal retrieved a gun from his car and physically immobilized the gunman for a full 41/2 minutes while waiting for the police to arrive. The gunman had already fatally shot two students (after earlier stabbing his mother to death). Who knows how many lives the assistant principal saved by his prompt response?

Allowing teachers and other law-abiding adults to carry concealed handguns in schools would not only make it easier to stop shootings in progress, it could also help deter shootings from ever occurring. Twenty-five or more years ago in Israel, terrorists would pull out machine guns in malls and fire away at civilians. However, with expanded concealed-handgun use by Israeli citizens, terrorists soon found the ordinary people around them pulling pistols on them. Suffice it to say, terrorists in Israel no longer engage in such public shootings to respond.

The one recent shooting of school children in Israel further illustrates these points. On March 13.1997, seven seventh and eighth-grade Israeli girls were shot to death by a Jordanian soldier while they visited Jordan’s so-called Island of Peace. The Los Angeles Times reports 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.”

Together with my colleague William Landes, I have studied multiple-victim public shootings in the U.S. from 1977 to 1995. These were incidents in which at least two people were killed or injured in a public place; to focus on the type of shooting seen in Arkansas we excluded shootings that were the byproduct of another crime, such as robbery. The U.S. averaged 21 such shootings per year, with an average of 1.8 people killed and 2.7 wounded in each one.

We examined a whole range of different gun laws as well as other methods of deterrence, such as the death penalty. However, only one policy succeeded in reducing 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-has been 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 the effects were never statistically significant.

With over 19,600 people murdered in 1996, those killed in multiple victim public shootings account for fewer than 0.2% of the total. Yet these are surely the murders that attract national as well as international attention, often for days after the attack. Victims recount their feelings of utter helplessness as a gunman methodically shoots his cowering prey.

Unfortunately, much of the public policy debate is driven by lopsided coverage of gun use. Tragic events like those in Arkansas receive massive news coverage, as they should, but discussions of 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 who prevented their children from being kidnapped by carjackers seldom even make the local news.

Attempts to outlaw guns from schools, no matter how well meaning, have backfired. Instead of making school safe for children, we have made them safe for those intent on harming our children. Current school policies fire teachers who even accidentally bring otherwise legal concealed handguns to school. We might consider reversing this policy and begin rewarding teachers who take on the responsibility to help protect children.

7 responses to “How to Stop School Shootings

  1. A good post.

    And the recent terrible events at New Town Conn show that the classic “nice” gun control place is, in fact, wide open. Indeed it is wide open because (because) the school is a nice “gun free” place (like a chicken house with a fox about).

    “Then ban firearms nationally”.

    Like Mexico? With its 1917 Constitutional right for people to keep firearms for self defence – violated by regulations that have made the legal buying of firearms in Mexico virutally impossible.

    Mexico has a far higher (yes – higher) murder rate.

    The same urban areas (equally hispanic on both sides of the border) will have a murder rates some ten times higher on the gun control Mexican side of the border than on the evil Texan side of the border.

    Whatever the Progressive “gun control” movement is about, it is not about reducing the number of murders.

  2. Well, the “progressive gun control movement” is all about removing LEGALLY held handguns. The criminals will take no notice. And this latest shooter would not have been deterred from committing mass murder just because it would be illegal for him to own a gun.

  3. The New Town shooting will more likely than not end up being misdiagnosed as a random nut killing sans an explanation about how it all happened. It will be a mystery cloaked in the unfathomable mental illness issue.

    I have opined elsewhere on this blog; suffice it to say I suspect that the killer was subjected at some stage in his life to behavour modification drugs either for his known mental illness or for behavior control at state school. I have put out Dr Peter Breggin as someone who is worth reading up on this topic, Google him. I won’t dilate at length here see my other posting on the drugs and gun control articles currently on the blog.

    Why does this matter? Most of these drugs have warnings about suicide re withdrawal etc. but they should also warn about homicide. The simple point is chemical suppression of conscience or empathy creating an iatrogenic psychopath which may be the true cause here. We shall see or maybe we won’t!

  4. Hugo Miller – agreed.

    Howard R. Gray – I have often heard it said that drugs for the treatment of some forms of mental illness eventually cause effects that are worse than the original illness. However, I am too ignorant of the science to be able to have an proper opinion on this matter.

    The men and women of science do verbal battle (as they do over Global Warming and other matters) – leaving me baffled.

  5. Dr Breggin is the man on this he writes well on topic and has had some success as a court expert.

  6. Dr Breggin has a whole section on his web site about mass murder. It behoves one to look at the whole site where there is a thorough briefing on the subject in general plus stacks of pdfs and other evident information.

  7. Ineresting, but, we don’t need stacks of million pound bureaucracy on
    gun legislation, there is no simple solution, could try not letting “Nutters”
    have guns, I note the police despite telling everyone else they can’t have a
    gun, all have shotguns, tails of thier conduct from the gamekeeper indicates
    these are precisely the sort of sick people who should not have guns, if you
    give guns to paramilitary goons, expect disaster, look at “Bloody Sunday.”
    I am a boardminded person, in someways to liberal, but I have to say there
    are people I would not let have guns, particularly those in the Norfolk
    Constabulary, some of their comments indicate they are a gun No.No.
    I think we have to be realistic, there is case for some people not having
    access to guns, there are those who would like to kill anything that moves,
    and inflict the most diabolical suffering on animals which they seem to enjoy,
    gun control in england is a Hot Potato, people are not allowed guns on the
    basis of their polictical veiw points, tory quacks and judges love to disarm
    anyone remotely repulican, there needs to be a commom sense approach,
    none political, If someone has a history of threatening someones live with
    a gun, simple don’t give them one, but of course we have to get round
    those who make false allegations by way of political motive first.