Do gun-free zones actually encourage more mass shootings?

We affirm the individual right recognized by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, and oppose the prosecution of individuals for exercising their rights of self-defense.

Early on the morning of Jan. 23, a 15-year-old allegedly opened fire with a pistol and killed two other students at Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky. He reportedly wounded 14 others by gunshot, and five more suffered injuries during their efforts to escape. The shooter was captured by sheriff’s deputies after he ran out of ammunition.

“As we consider the unspeakable, avoidable violence today in Kentucky, it’s hard to understand what could compel such an evil action,” said Libertarian National Committee Vice-Chair Arvin Vohra. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed or wounded; our hearts break as we imagine what they are going through. In this time of sorrow, we must ask our representatives: How long will we let this continue? How many more times will well-advertised ‘gun-free’ school zones predictably allow for these horrors? Don’t the young people in America deserve better than to be sent to a disarmed killing field every day, hoping that no one takes advantage of it today? Don’t they deserve not just to feel safe, but actually to be safe? Let’s make this the last tragedy of its kind, by ending gun-free school zone laws now.”

Statistics on whether more mass killings take place in gun-free zones or elsewhere vary, usually depending on the ideological agenda of the compiler of the statistics. What is known is that killers motivated by a desire for infamy, or with terrorist intent, frequently choose to inflict their mayhem in locations where few people, if any, are armed. Common sense indicates that it’s easier and faster to shoot fleeing victims in the back than to shoot an armed adversary in a defensive position. The 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting ended when the shooter was confronted by an armed defender — not before that confrontation.

There are many other cases in which responsible gun owners have prevented mass shootings from occurring or escalating. A 1997 high school shooting in Pearl, Miss., was halted by the school’s vice principal after he retrieved the Colt .45 he kept in his truck. A 1998 middle school shooting ended when a man living next door heard gunfire and apprehended the shooter with his shotgun. A 2002 terrorist attack at an Israeli school was quickly stopped by an armed teacher and a school guard. A 2002 law school shooting in Grundy, Va., came to an abrupt conclusion when students carrying firearms confronted the shooter. A 2007 mall shooting in Salt Lake City, Utah, ended when an armed off-duty police officer intervened. A 2009 workplace shooting in Houston, Texas, was halted by two coworkers who carried concealed handguns. A 2012 church shooting in Aurora, Colo., was stopped by a member of the congregation carrying a gun. A 2012 mall shooting in Portland, Ore., ended when the gunman took his own life minutes after being confronted by a shopper carrying a concealed weapon.

The economist David D. Friedman pointed out in his book Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life that violent criminals tend to avoid situations in which they suspect their victims may be able to fight back.

“Suppose one little old lady in ten carries a gun,” Friedman wrote. “Suppose that one in ten of those, if attacked by a mugger, will succeed in killing the mugger instead of being killed by him … The number of muggers declines drastically, not because they have all been killed but because they have, rationally, sought safer professions.”

David Kopel, a self-identified life-long Democrat who is research director at the Independence Institute in Colorado and associate policy analyst at the Cato Institute, has written prolifically on gun control. “Simply put, if not for gun control, Hitler would not have been able to murder 21 million people,” Kopel wrote in National Review.

The work of R. J. Rummel, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii, documents 169,202,000 people who were killed during the 20th century by governments practicing democide — defined as politically motivated genocide, mass murder, or other purposeful killing. According to Rummel’s scholarly research, the Soviet Union killed 61,911,000. Maoist China killed 35,236,000. The Nazis killed 20,946,000. Other smaller totalitarian dictatorships killed the rest. These numbers do not include casualties of war. All these countries were turned into gun-free-zones before the killing began.

Countries like Switzerland and the United States, which have both historically had a well-armed populace, did not suffer this kind of fate. The same principle applies in smaller settings. Those who wish to harm others tend to be deterred when people have the capability of fighting back. That is why gun-free-zones and, indeed, all forms of gun control should be opposed.

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