CONAN: . . . As we mentioned, later in the program Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will join us, but first we begin with John Lott, an economist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws." He joins us now by phone from Virginia. And it's good of you to be with us today.
JOHN LOTT: Well, thank you for having me on.
CONAN: And I wonder, the book is about why you believe that gun-free zones, I guess like the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, are magnets for shooters. Is that the conversation you've been having?
LOTT: Yeah, I mean that's part of it. I think one thing that's been missing in this discussion is that essentially all the multiple victim public shootings in the United States, and all the ones in Europe, have one factor in common - that is, they keep occurring where guns are banned.
And I'll give you a simple example from this year. I mean any of the ones you point to from this year or past years are going to follow that, but look at the Colorado shooting that the governor is going to be coming on to talk about. You had seven movie theaters showing the Batman movie within a 20-minute drive of the killer's apartment.
Only one of those seven movie theaters posted a ban on concealed handguns. The killer didn't go to the movie theater that was closest to his home. There was one that was only 1.3 miles away. He didn't go to the largest one. In fact, one advertises itself quite openly as having the largest auditorium in the state of Colorado.
And you'd think if you wanted to go to one that would kill a lot of people, he'd go to the largest one on premiere night for the Batman movie. Instead, the one he went to was the only one that banned concealed handguns. And that happens time after time.
You look at the mall shooting last week. There were other malls in the area that did not post bans. Yet the one he picked to go to was the one that banned concealed handguns. Look at...
CONAN: I hear your point, I hear what you're saying, and somebody might say Tucson. This was a mall. Clearly somebody who was angry at a member of Congress for whatever reason. If you say somebody at Virginia Tech was angry at, enraged at his school, whether or not it was a gun-free zone is almost irrelevant.
LOTT: Right, but here's the point, and that is when you have state that allows concealed carry, the gun-free zones are really only a tiny fraction of the area within the state. You take Virginia, for example. Basically the only places that you're banned from carrying a concealed handgun in Virginia are courthouses, airports and schools.
So you know, if it was random, you know, people could get mad at all sorts of places, right?
CONAN: Yeah, but he was a student at Virginia Tech and clearly had rage against the institution.
LOTT: No, I understand, but presumably - right, I understand, but presumably there are other people who get mad at other things. Why, why - you had a mall shooting a few years ago in Nebraska. OK, there's like seven major malls. Why would he go to the one that was posted for a ban? Or in Salt Lake City, when they had malls there. Why would the shooter go to - you know, it could be random, but at some point if you have seven movie theaters that fit the same criteria of showing the movie, you know, what are the odds time after time when these things occur that they pick the one place where guns are banned to engage in the attack.
CONAN: And this is the really the moment to have this conversation, do you think, to reach out across the divide and...
LOTT: I've been trying to have this conversation for over a decade. Look at the Columbine shooting. It's another example. One thing that people don't talk about very much is that the two killers in that case were very opposed to a concealed handgun law that was being considered at that time before the state legislature.
Dylan Klebold particularly spoke out about it. It's my understanding that he actually wrote letters to the state legislature opposing the adoption of the concealed carry law. One thing that doesn't get attention is that the Columbine attack occurred the very day that the Colorado legislature was scheduled for final passage of the concealed handgun law.
I was there in the morning. I was asked by the speaker of the House at the time to come and talk to legislators before they voted later that afternoon on the bill.
CONAN: You don't find it - excuse me, you don't find it more relevant that both these kids were students at Columbine High School? They were going to attack somewhere else?
LOTT: Yeah, but the point is, why did he pick that day? And also, look, out of all these attacks, if it's random, wouldn't you expect some attacks to be occurring in places, you know, where guns - where guns aren't banned? Look at Europe. Look at Switzerland, for example. Switzerland has a very relaxed concealed carry law. Half the cantons in the country, you don't need a license, you just carry it. The other half, very easy to get a license.
They've had three big multiple-victim public shootings in the last 12 years. All three of those are in the very few buildings where guns aren't allowed in Switzerland. I'm just saying, you look around the world, at some point if it's just randomness, you know, and - you know, you would expect to see more than zero, right, in these cases, and the United States has only one case since 1950 where one of these multiple-victim public shootings, where more than three people have been killed, that's occurred in a place where guns were allowed.
All the other ones, all the others have occurred where guns are banned. Let me give you a simple question to think about. Let's say, God forbid, a criminal was seriously stalking you, a violent criminal was stalking you or your family. Would you feel safer putting a sign in front of your home that said your home was a gun-free zone? Would that make you feel like the criminal would be less likely to attack your family in the home there?
My guess is you wouldn't put up a sign like that. I don't know any gun control proponent that would put up a sign like that in front of their own home. I've debated many of them. But why do we put those - even though we wouldn't put a sign like that in front of our home, we put them in front of all sorts of other places.
And the answer is obvious why we wouldn't put it in front of our own home. It's because we know that would encourage the person to attack. He'd say if I can attack anyplace, why shouldn't I attack where I know they're not going to be able to defend themselves very well?
CONAN: John Lott, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
LOTT: OK, thank you.
CONAN: John Lott is an economist and author of "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control." He joined us on the phone from Virginia. Let's see if we can go next to - this is - this is Steven(ph), Steven with us from Fort Smith in Arkansas.