Gun-free zones are killing us

Hours before the latest shooting at a movie theater in Louisiana, President Obama lamented what he regards as his greatest failure as president – his inability to pass gun control measures.

In an interview with the BBC, he complained that we are “the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common sense gun safety laws.”

For a president who is moving to take away guns from millions of veterans and the elderlysimply because they rely on others to handle their finances, some say Obama has already gone too far.

Obama offers no explanation for why the worst mass shooting during his presidency occurred in Europe, not in the US. Nor did he explain why many European countries have ahigher frequency of attacks and a higher death rate from mass public shootings.

Not once during his interview with the BBC does he explain how his gun control proposals would have stopped any of the attacks he has spoken so passionately about.

The expanded background checks Obama has advocated wouldn’t have stopped a single one of the attacks that occurred during his presidency. The killers either passed background checks and bought the gun legally or stole the guns. With these killers planning their attacks far in advance, anywhere from 6 months (Charleston and Aurora attacks) to more than 2 years (Newtown and Santa Barbara), it is hardly clear why one would expect these rules to matter.

If someone truly poses a danger to others, shouldn’t they be involuntarily committed? Mistakes were made in the background check for the killer at the church in Charleston. In another case, John Houser, who attacked the movie theater in Lafayette, was never involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital and had never been convicted of a crime, so he was able to legally buy a gun. Judges and the legal system aren’t always going to get these decisions correct.

Even a perfectly functioning background check system very likely wouldn’t have stopped those cases. Six months is a long time to get around background checks. The Charleston killer apparently stole the gun from his mother. Finding ways around background checks is like assuming that banning drugs will stop people who want to use them. Not surprisingly, the vast research on background checks finds that they do not reduce crime.

The Sunday morning television talk shows all assumed expanded background checks were the solution to mental illness and guns, but no concerns were raised about the current system. No one questioned how Obama is manipulating the definition of mental illness to take away people’s guns. No mention that since virtually everyone who is stopped from buying a gun by background checks is a false-positive, law-abiding citizens who really needa gun for self-defense are being disarmed. Nor do people discuss how not everyone with a mental illness is a danger to others — indeed, only a very tiny fraction of 1 percent of people with mental illness problems are a danger to themselves or others.

Obama’s occasional remarks about expanded mental health care ignore that while abouthalf of mass public shooters had seen mental health professionals; none had been identified as a danger to others.

Obama also refuses to acknowledge what many worry might serve as a magnet for these attacks: so-called “gun-free zones.” In the Chattanooga attack, the picture of the “gun-free zone” sign on the door of the military recruiting office was easily seen. Piers Morganwrites how last week’s attack in Lafayette shows the claim “more guns, less crime” is a”right-wing lie,” yet he conveniently ignores that movie theater attack took place in yet another gun-free zone.

As could be expected, the law-abiding permit holders obeyed the posted signs, not the killer. Upon seeing the gun-free zone signs the killer didn’t take his gun and lock it in his car.

With all the recent cases from Santa Barbara, Canada, and Charleston, where criminals have explicitly targeted gun-free zones, you would think that we would have learned our lesson. Yet, Michael Bloomberg’s gun control groups worry about letting even soldiers carry guns for protection.

The president himself could allow our troops to protect themselves with an executive order. Other gun-free zones could also be eliminated. But the president won’t even consider these options. Again, just in case the background checks or mental health system fails to properly identify those who pose a danger, let’s not disarm the law-abiding.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including “More Guns, Less Crime.” His latest book is “Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench” Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.