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Commentary

How to Empower Northern Illinois University


     
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A crazed gunman slaughtered 32 people at Virginia Tech despite it being a “gun free zone.” The shooting last week at Northern Illinois University is the latest in a series of at least five other massacres in such “gun free zones.”

Some criminologists wonder if such zones actually attract mass killers who know that their victims will be disarmed. Some states are now considering allowing college students and professors who have gun carry permits (CCWs) to have their guns on campus. Proponents cite the success of the 40 states who issue CCWs to all reputable, trained applicants. Analyzing 25 years’ national data, economist John Lott found that states with such laws experienced less violent crime. (But as criminals turned to nonviolent crimes, rates of those increased.)

Most of Lott’s critics are ideologically opposed, vehemently feeling that guns are the problem, not the answer. But when non-ideological critics examined Lott’s work using econometric methods they preferred to Lott’s, this just confirmed the finding that widespread gun-carrying by responsible, law-abiding adults greatly reduces violent crime. Some reexaminations concluded that Lott actually had underestimated this effect. Lott’s book [BEG ITAL]The Bias Against Guns[END ITAL] (Regnery, 2003) was endorsed by two Nobel Prize winners.

But even if arming victims stops ordinary criminals, will it deter mass killers--people who often end up killing themselves rather than shooting it out with police? For the answer, look to the history of Israel. Early terrorists targeted schools, feeling that killing children would terrorize the Jews into fleeing Israel. Moreover, it seemed a low-risk strategy: Small children can’t shoot back.

Israel responded by arming teachers in schools and on field trips. In many cases, armed teachers killed terrorists or held them off until security forces arrived. Even today’s suicide terrorists, though willing to die, have learned to avoid schools lest they be shot down before they can kill the children. They have learned to kill in markets instead, and in other public places where strangers are freely allowed entrance.

Typical is a May 31, 2002 report from the Israeli news service Arutz Sheva: “At about 8:30 AM, [the terrorist] fire[d,] and threw a grenade, at the kindergarten before [shooting up]...the town. He opened fire at several residents and homes before David Elbaz, owner of the local mini-market, gave chase and killed him with gunshots.... Security sweeps revealed several explosive devices that he had intended to detonate during the thwarted attack.”

But he did not try to enter the kindergarten, which would have meant shooting it out with teachers before he could kill the children. (A few days earlier, a suicide terrorist was killed by a teacher before he could harm anyone.)

Liberal American CCW-issuance policies have stopped mass killers here as well. Some weeks ago, a crazed gunman, having killed two people at a mission school, broke into a crowded church. But before his shots struck anyone, he was shot down by a CCW-licensed woman who had volunteered to protect the church. Similarly, over the last decade:

- A gunman who killed two at a Mississippi high school was prevented from killing more, by a principal who retrieved a handgun from his car;

- An ex-student who killed three at Appalachian Law School was disarmed by two students who retrieved guns from their cars; and

- A teacher was killed and three children wounded at an Edinboro, Penn. junior high school dance, before the owner of the auditorium arrived with a shotgun and arrested the shooter.

Guns in the hands of law-abiding, responsible adults have never been a problem. Studies as far back as the nineteenth century consistently demonstrate that murderers are extreme aberrants, with life histories of violence, crime, psychopathology, and/or substance abuse. Only 15% of Americans have ever been arrested, but almost 100% of murderers come from that group.

Our laws already forbid such people guns--but such people don’t obey laws. Unfortunately, the only people affected by “gun free zone” policies are the law-abiding and responsible. They are thereby left to be helpless targets for those who disobey those policies.


Don B. Kates is a criminologist and constitutional lawyer who is a Research Fellow with the Independent Institute in Oakland, California.






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