3/30/2016

New piece in Investor's Business Daily: In Wake Of The Shooting, Should The Capitol Remain Gun-Free?

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I have a new piece with Nicole Goeser at Investor's Business Daily on the Capitol shooting on Monday:
Like so many mass public shootings, the gunman who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Monday first tried shooting a uniformed officer.  Fortunately, the lone gunman was quickly subdued and no one other than the attacker was seriously injured. But it raises questions of what would have happened with a more coordinated terrorist attack. 
With terror attacks occurring regularly around the world, we can’t ignore the fact that the Capitol would provide a primary target for terrorists.  Indeed, an FBI informant foiled such an attack in January. 
Police are crucial – probably the single most important factor in reducing crime. But uniformed police have a tough job stopping terrorists since they are often the first targets in any attack. 
In late 2013, Ron Noble, who at the time was secretary-general of Interpol, Europe’s version of the FBI, noted two means of protecting people from mass shootings: 
“One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves (should be) so secure that in order to get into the soft target, you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.” 
But with terrorists planning these attacks many months or even years in advance, Noble warned that his experience taught him it was virtually impossible to stop killers from getting weapons. 
The federal government might learn something by looking at the states that allow some form of permitted handgun carry within their legislative public areas.  At least 16 allow permitted carry in their capitols: Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.  Even more allow guns to be carried in legislative areas. 
The problem with gun-free zones that ban law-abiding civilians from carrying is that they don’t exactly scare off criminals. In fact, they have just the opposite effect. Disarming everyone, including legislators or staffers on their way to and from the buildings, leaves them easy targets for criminals and terrorists. 
Even some Republicans, such as Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., support keeping the Capitol gun-free, “given the risks that are associated with (guns) and that we already have security with the Capitol Police. 
The U.S. has more than 13 million handgun permit holders — 5.6% of the 21-and-over population.  In the vast majority of states, people are likely to be carrying a gun right next to you in a mall, a restaurant or a movie theater.
With many state legislators working to eliminate gun-free zones throughout their states, allowing guns in legislative buildings lets legislators show they really believe in the benefits of concealed carry. 
Kentucky allows permitted concealed carry in legislative areas, including the capitol. If you attend a legislative meeting, you must carry your gun openly, though no permit is required. 
In Texas, permit holders are allowed to get through capitol security much faster.  They can skip the metal detector, since they’ve already passed a criminal background check. After a while, lobbyists and journalists figured this out and got their own handgun carry permits. 
The same concerns about concealed carry in state capitols were raised when states adopted right-to-carry laws. But permit holders have been extremely law-abiding. Nationwide, permits are revoked for firearms-related violations at thousandths or tens of thousandths of 1%. 
Indeed, it’s hard to think of any other group in the country that’s anywhere near as law-abiding. Police are very rarely convicted of firearm violations, but they’re convicted six times more often than permit holders. 
Those who want to keep bans on civilians carrying guns in legislative areas worry that they’ll accidentally fire their guns. Yet despite all the experience in other states with carrying guns at legislative public areas and capitols, we know of just one accidental discharge — in Kentucky in January 2014 and in which no one was harmed. 
In addition, since at least 1950, all but three American public mass shootings have taken place where civilians are banned from carrying guns. In Europe, every mass shooting has occurred in a gun-free zone. 
Those advocating gun-free zones claim permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders or that arriving police will shoot the permit holders. Concealed carry holders have stopped shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and busy downtowns many times, and not once have the permit holders been shot a bystander. Nor have the police ever accidentally shot a permit holder. 
Gun-free zones are magnets for murderers. Even the most ardent gun-control advocate would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on his home. Let’s stop putting them elsewhere, including the U.S. Capitol. 
* Goeser and Lott are with the Crime Prevention Research Center.  Lott is also the author of More Guns, Less Crime.

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