May 2005

Short Shots: 05/05

Multiple-Victim Shootings: Were People Left Defenseless?
March saw three multiple-victim public shootings: the Atlanta courthouse attack that left four murdered; the Wisconsin church shooting, where seven were murdered, and a high-school shooting in Minnesota, where nine were murdered.

John R. Lott, Jr., a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The Bias Against Guns and More Guns, Less Crime, has asked: What can be learned from these attacks?

He argues that the events require different responses, but he notes the common thread between them: The lack of an armed citizen response.

He wrote, “The lessons from the courthouse shooting are likely to be different from the other two attacks in that there were armed sheriff’s deputies present. Even if civilian gun possession were banned at the courthouse, the officers still had guns. Not only did they fail to stop the attack, they even facilitated it, because the 200-pound former football linebacker who was facing trial for rape was able to take the gun.

“Guns are most useful in stopping criminals at a distance. The threat of using the gun against a criminal can allow one to capture him, or at least can cause the criminal to break off his attack. Police have a much more difficult job than civilians. While civilians can use a gun to maximize the distance between themselves and criminals, police can be satisfied with simply brandishing a gun and watching the criminal run away. Their job requires physical contact, and when that happens, things can go badly wrong.

“My own published research on criminals assaulting police shows that the more likely that an assault will be successful, the more likely criminals will be to make it. The major factor determining success is the relative strengths and sizes of the criminal and officer. In particular, when officer strength and size requirements are reduced because of affirmative action, each one-percent increase in the number of female officers increases the number of assaults on police by 15 to 19 percent. The Atlanta-courthouse shooting simply arose from such a case.

“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 members 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’?

“It is pretty obvious why we don’t put these signs up. As with many other gun laws, law-abiding citizens, not would-be criminals, would obey the sign. Instead of creating a safe zone for victims, it leaves victims defenseless and creates a safe zone for those intent on causing harm.”

He also points out that a three-year prison term for violating a gun-free zone represents a real penalty for a law-abiding citizen. Adding three years to a criminal’s sentence when he is probably already going to face multiple death penalties or life sentences for a murderous rampage is probably not going to be the penalty that stops the criminal from committing his crime.

Many Americans have learned this lesson the hard way. In 1985, just eight states had the most liberal right-to-carry laws — laws that automatically grant permits once applicants pass a criminal background check, pay their fees and, when required, complete a training class. Today the total is 37 states.

Lott said, “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.”

Their studies also found that 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. The impact of right-to-carry laws on multiple-victim public shootings is much larger than on other crimes, for a simple reason. Increasing the probability that someone will be able to protect themselves, increases deterrence. Even when any single person might have a small probability of having a concealed handgun, the probability that at least someone will is very high.

“Unfortunately, the restrictive concealed-handgun law now in effect in Minnesota bans concealed handguns around schools, and Wisconsin is one of four states that completely ban concealed handguns, let alone not allowing them in churches,” Lott said. There was a guard at the Minnesota school and he was apparently the first person killed, but he was also apparently unarmed. While permitted concealed handguns by civilians are banned in Georgia courthouses, it is not clear that the benefit is anywhere near as large as other places simply because you usually have armed law enforcement nearby. One possibility is to encourage prosecutors and others to carry concealed guns around courthouses.

These restrictions on guns in schools weren’t always in place, Lott said. “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 principals 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.

“People’s reaction to the horrific events displayed on TV such as the Minnesota attack are understandable,” Lott said, “but the more than two million times each year that Americans use guns defensively are never discussed — even though this is five times as often as the 450,000 times that guns are used to commit crimes over the last couple of years.”

Seldom do cases make the news where public shootings are stopped or mothers use guns to prevent their children from being kidnapped. Few would know that a third of the public-school shootings were stopped by citizens with guns before police could arrive.

Lott said, “In an analysis that I did during 2001 of media coverage of guns, the morning and evening national-news broadcasts on the three main television networks carried almost 200,000 words on contemporaneous gun-crime stories. By comparison, not one segment featured a civilian using a gun to stop a crime. Newspapers are not much better.”

He noted that 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.


Our Take: Good intentions don’t necessarily make good laws. What counts is whether the laws ultimately save lives. Too many gun laws primarily disarm law-abiding citizens, not criminals.

----------

Pilots Say Gun Certification Is Moving Slowly
Is the Bush administration making it too difficult for crews to take guns into the cockpit? Pilots think so.

Pilots who monitor the program estimate that between 4,000 and 4,500 have been trained and deputized to carry guns since the Federal Flight Deck Officer program began in April 2003, but that’s only a fraction of the 95,000 pilots who fly for U.S. airlines.

Tens of thousands of pilots are interested in the program, according to the Airline Pilots Security Alliance (APSA), a group formed to lobby for guns in the cockpit. APSA contends the Transportation Security Administration isn’t moving to get substantially more pilots trained to carry guns because it has never really wanted the program.

The exact number of armed pilots is classified. No pilot has fired a weapon, either intentionally or accidentally, while on duty, according to the TSA.

The TSA initially opposed the program, but the agency reluctantly endorsed the idea when it was clear Congress was behind it.

Pilots must volunteer, take a psychological test and complete a weeklong firearms training program run by the government to keep a gun in the cockpit. It can take from two months to a year to get a gun from the time an online application is submitted. Some pilots never even hear back from the TSA, according to APSA.

Another pilots’ group, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, gave the TSA a “D” for the guns-in-the-cockpit program as part of its annual “Aviation Security Report Card.”


Our Take: Besides the slow pace of certification, the groups object to the requirement that pilots carry their government-issue semiautomatic guns in a lockbox when they’re not in the cockpit and to store it in the cargo hold when they’re traveling but not flying a plane. Forcing pilots to give up their guns is just not a smart thing to do. Besides disarming them, the policy exposes the weapons to loss or theft.

----------

Regulating International Arms Trade
The British government is trying again to secure an internationally binding treaty to regulate the arms trade. A similar UN initiative four years ago, aimed at curbing small arms, was blocked by President George Bush.

The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, set out details of a proposed treaty to regulate trade in conventional weapons. Saferworld, a UK-based pressure group pushing for control of the arms trade, claims that small arms caused an estimated 300,000 deaths a year.

Straw said, “We should be clear that our goal is not a voluntary agreement, or a talking shop, but a treaty which is legally binding on all its signatories, putting on a firm statutory footing the principle of responsibility in arms exports.”

Straw pledged to put the proposed treaty on the agenda for a meeting in July of the G8, the world’s richest countries, which also include the biggest arms trades.

Straw also said, “The fact is that relatively ‘cheap and simple’ conventional weapons, whether the guns of bandits and rebels, the bombs of terrorists or the tanks of repressive regimes, account for an enormous amount of avoidable human misery across the world, and hit the poorest and most vulnerable worst of all.”

The British government heavily subsidizes its arms industry and, in recent years, has exported to countries engaged in conflict or with poor human rights records, such as Indonesia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

But Straw said that the treaty should be “based on certain core principles which make clear when exports would be unacceptable.”

These should include “whether exports may be used to abuse human rights or breach international law, whether they may fuel internal or regional conflict or tension, and the risk of their being diverted to terrorists or other undesirable end-users.”


Our Take: Secretary Straw neglects to say whether machetes, clubs, gasoline-filled tires, ropes, and starvation will be part of the arms-control pact. Governments fear people who are armed, for the simple reason that the armed individual can protect himself somewhat better with a rifle than a rock. We hope the Bush administration shoots this idea down.

----------

Legislative Roundup Around The States
• In March, the New Mexico Senate gave final approval to HB 641, the NRA-backed Right To Carry Reform bill, on a 32-7 vote. HB 641, sponsored by Rep. John Heaton (D-Carlsbad) & Sen. Shannon Robinson (D-Albuquerque) lowers the minimum age requirement for a Concealed Handgun License from 25 to 21, extends the term of a license from 2 to 4 years, allows the applicant to qualify with any caliber handgun and carry any caliber smaller than that, and gives DPS the authority to enter into reciprocal agreements with certain other states. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Richardson (D), who strongly supported the measure throughout the legislative process, for his expected signature.

• In the Illinois House, several pro-gun bills are awaiting a vote by the full chamber. HB 136 establishes remedies for law-abiding citizens should their application for a FOID card take longer than 30 days. HB 340 eliminates the waiting-period requirement when trading one firearm for another. HB 341 addresses several aspects of law regarding gun shows, destruction of records on law-abiding gun owners maintained by the Illinois State Police, and statewide preemption of local gun laws (except for in the City of Chicago). HB 478 would require any local ordinance prohibiting firearms to include an exception for self defense.

• A concealed-weapons measure (LB454) is making its way through the Nebraska house. The Cornhusker State is one of about a dozen states that don’t currently have some legal right to carry a concealed weapon. The measure has 23 co-sponsors, but its passage is not assured. A concealed weapon measure was first introduced in 1996, and a 2003 bill cleared one of three rounds of debate before time ran out. In a survey, 22 senators said they would favor allowing Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons, while 10 said they were leaning that way— about a 2-1 margin if an actual vote were taken on the bill. Gov. Dave Heineman supports the concept of legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons but has not taken a position on the bill.

The bill would require applicants for a concealed weapon permit to pass a background check and complete a handgun training and safety course. The permit would cost $100 and be valid for five years. Convicted felons would not be allowed to get a permit. Concealed weapons would not be allowed in a variety of places, including bars, police stations, public meetings, athletic events, schools, churches, hospitals, banks and bars that derive more than half of their sales from selling alcohol. Signs would be allowed to be posted disallowing the carrying of concealed weapons in other non-designated locations.


Our Take: This is a big step for Nebraska, and gunowners would benefit from all the other states’ work on CCLs over the years.