‘Gun-free’ zones fail;
concealed carry works
By F. Paul Valone
After the Virginia Tech massacre, the Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer both solicited variations of the following column. In the N&O, it ran as part of a point-counterpoint section of the Sunday “Q” section on April 22, 2007, two pages of which were devoted to “Massacre at Virginia Tech: How does it change the gun control debate,” in which my piece was titled “Meet force with force: Allow guns on campus.” In the Observer, it ran on April 25, 2007 under its original title.
If your state lawmakers killed legislation intended to protect students from slaughter, would you celebrate by saying, “I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus”?
This 2006 hubris was courtesy of Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker1; the legislation killed was House Bill 1572, which could have enabled concealed handgun permit-holders to protect themselves on college campuses; and harsh reality trumped Hincker’s “feeling” of safety when Cho Seung-Hui murdered thirty-two at Virginia Tech.
When gun control advocates peddle their oft-failed schemes as solutions, they avoid mentioning details of three other school shootings where armed intervention saved lives without additional shots fired:
- In Pearl, Mississippi, assistant principal Joel Myrick stopped triple murderer Luke Woodham using a handgun retrieved from his car.2
- In Edinboro, Pennsylvania, the 14-year-old who killed a teacher at an off-campus dance was captured by shotgun-wielding James Strand.3
- And at Virginia’s own Appalachian School of Law, student Tracy Bridges used his pistol to detain murderer Peter Odighizuwa.4
Beyond anecdotes, researchers John Lott and William Landes, then at Yale and the University of Chicago, respectively, studied multiple victim public shootings. Examining data from 1976 to 1995, they discovered the number of shootings in states which adopted concealed handgun laws declined by 84%, deaths plummeted by 90% and injuries by 82.5%.5
Crediting the reductions to deterrence (even suicidal maniacs avoid victims who shoot back), Lott and Landes called their findings “dramatic,” concluding: “[T]he only policy factor to have a consistently significant influence on multiple victim public shootings is the passage of concealed handgun laws.”6
Like North Carolina, Virginia prohibits guns on campuses. But policies purporting to create “gun-free” zones actually increase victimization, found the researchers: “…states with the fewest gun free zones have the greatest reductions [in] killings, injuries, and attacks.”7
Indeed, of eight major school rampages tracked by The New York Times, six occurred after enactment of the federal “Gun Free School Zones Act” in 1996.8
Said Lott, “Gun prohibitionists concede that banning guns around schools has not quite worked as intended—but their response has been to call for more regulation 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.”9
Concealed carry in schools, while novel, is not untested: Utah has permitted it since 1995, further expanding the law in 2004.10, 11 If you Google “Utah school shootings,” you will find exactly none. Last week, the Tennessee state house voted to join Utah.12
Lest you picture drunken freshman shooting into the air at football games, understand that FBI background checks ensure permit-holders are age twenty-one and free of felonies, violent misdemeanors and demonstrated substance abuse. After twelve years under North Carolina’s concealed handgun law, permit-holders have proven themselves sane, sober and law-abiding. Revocations run less the one tenth of one percent, most for reasons unrelated to guns.13
Moreover, the concept has support among academics: After the recent murders, Virginia Tech graduate research assistant Brad Wiles says, “My fears have been realized.” He then quotes his unsuccessful appeal to the school’s president last August: “The policy that forbids students who are legally licensed to carry in Virginia needs to be changed. I am qualified and capable of carrying a concealed handgun and urge you to work with me to allow my most basic right of self-defense, and eliminate entrusting my safety and the safety of my classmates to the government.”14
When Wiles advocated such in an August editorial, Hincker hurrumphed: “Guns don’t belong in classrooms. They never will. Virginia Tech has a very sound policy preventing same.”15
Policy-makers will debate Virginia Tech’s delayed emergency response and its failure to address Cho’s clearly disturbed behavior; they will debate campus security. But if thirty-two murders say anything, it’s that police have neither the ability nor—as the Supreme Court has twice ruled—the responsibility to protect you.16
Seventy-six-year-old Professor Liviu Librescu, a Jewish survivor of Romanian labor camps, used his body to shield escaping Virginia students.17 Doubtless, the politicians who killed HB 1572 console themselves that their malfeasance didn’t quite cause his murder.
But maybe North Carolina’s legislators will display uncharacteristic courage by passing legislation allowing concealed handgun permit-holders to deter or stop campus rampages. Heroes like Prof. Librescu deserve something better than their bodies to stop bullets.
- “Gun bill gets shot down by panel: HB 1572, which would have allowed handguns on college campuses, died in subcommittee,” Roanoke Times, January 31, 2006, available at: http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/wb/xp-50658
- “A principal and his gun,” Wayne Laugesen, Second Amendment Project of the Independence Institute, reprinted from Boulder Weekly, available at: http://www.davekopel.com/2A/OthWr/principal&gun.htm
- “What If We Had Taken Columbine Seriously?” The Weekly Standard, April 24-May 1, 2000, by David B. Kopel, quoted from Second Amendment Project of The Independence Institute, available at: http://www.davekopel.org/2A/Mags/WhatIfWeHadTakenColumbineSeriously.htm
- “Gun Stops Gunman,” The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2002.
- “The Real Lesson of the School Shootings,” The Wall Street Journal, March 27, 1998.
- Ibid. at note 5.
- “Multiple Victim Public Shootings,” John R. Lott Jr., School of Law, Yale University & William M. Landes, University of Chicago Law School, November 1, 1996, Latest Revision, October 19, 2000, p 18. Forwarded to me by the researcher, and available upon request. Also available for download at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=272929
- “Timeline: Major Fatal Campus Shootings,” The New York Times, April 17, 2007. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/17/us/shootings-timeline.html
- Ibid. at note 5.
- “The Resistance: Teaching common-sense school protection,” David B. Kopel, National Review Online, October 10, 2006, available at: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=YTNmZDZhYzg4NTMwODFlMzFmOThjNjhkODMzYzYzMWI=
- Utah concealed carry restrictions can be found at: http://bci.utah.gov/CFP/CFPFAQ/FAQForbid.html
- “TN Moves to Allow Guns in Public Buildings,” Nashville News Sentinel, 4-18-07, quoted from: http://www.firearmscoalition.org/
- “A permit to pack,” News & Record, May 8, 2005, Eric J.S. Townsend.
- “Student pleaded with Tech: Allow guns,” The Roanoke Times, 4-20-07, Bradford Wiles, available at: http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/commentary/wb/113894
- “Imagine if students were armed,” The Roanoke Times, 9-5-06, Larry Hincker, available at: http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/commentary/wb/81277
- Supreme Court decisions Warren v. D.C., available at: http://www.gunowners.org/sk0503.htm and Riss v. NY, available at: http://www.4lawschool.com/outlines/bank/torts102.htm
- “Israeli professor killed in US attack,” The Jerusalem Post, April 17, 2007, available at: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1176152816138&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2F