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Gun-free school zones will not protect kids: A painful but honest lesson after last week's school shooting in Kentucky

January 29, 2018, at New York Daily News

By John R. Lott, Jr.


Before knowing almost anything about last Tuesday's mass public shooting at a high school in Kentucky, gun control advocates were once again calling for more gun control. The horrible attack at the Marshall County High School killed two 15-year-olds and left 14 others wounded.

One thing is certain: Neither changes in background checks nor assault weapons bans would have prevented this attack. The killer was already too young to even qualify to go through a background check and he didn't use that type of weapon.

Within hours of the attack, before we even knew how the shooter had obtained the gun, former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords declared the lesson to be that we "must strengthen our gun laws."

One of us, Congressman Massie from Kentucky, has proposed legislation that takes a different approach. The "Safe Students Act" would repeal parts of the federal criminal code that prohibit the possession of a firearm in a school zone. That would make it easier for adults with concealed handgun permits to defend themselves and students.

There seems to be a particular fear of allowing concealed handguns on school property. For example, last year, Kentucky Center for School Safety executive director Jon Akers said that his state's proposed school carry bill "scares me." He argued: "The only people who should be carrying guns at a school are law enforcement officers."

The problem is that stationing police in all schools is incredibly costly. Only about four out of every 10 public schools have at least one safety officer who carries a gun all or part of the time. Police are very important in the fight against crime, but stopping mass public shootings is an incredibly difficult job. An officer's uniform is like a neon sign saying, "Shoot me first."

Concealed carry comes with the benefit that attackers won't know who is armed, and won't know who they need to attack first.

Allowing teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns is nothing new in the United States, and there haven't been any problems. Prior to the early 1990s, there were no state laws specifically restricting concealed carry on K-12 property.

Twenty-five states now allow teachers and staff to carry guns, though the rules vary. Alabama, Utah, New Hampshire, and parts of Oregon allow teachers and staff to carry. Other states leave it to the discretion of the superintendent or school board. In Ohio, at least 40 school districts allow teachers to carry. Unfortunately, current federal law makes it ambiguous that even if a state law specifically allows someone with a concealed handgun permit to carry on school property, they may still be subject to federal prosecution. Massie has run into this concern from people across the country.

"From what I've seen in Utah, [school insurance] rates have not gone up because of guns being allowed," says Curt Oda, former president of the Utah Association of Independent Insurance Agents. Nor do other states appear to have seen increased insurance costs.

The only accidental discharge by a permit holder on K-12 property occurred in Utah in 2014 and resulted in only a very minor injury. This doesn't count off-hours firearms training on school grounds.

Some people fear that permit holders won't respond well, and perhaps accidentally shoot an innocent person. However, police have never accidentally shot a permit holder. Nor has a permit holder ever shot a bystander. To the contrary, they have recently stopped dozens of would-be mass public shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and towns.

The term "gun-free zone" is what should really make people nervous, since police virtually always arrive after an attack has occurred.

Since 1950, all but six mass public shootings in America have occurred where citizens are banned from carrying guns. In Europe, which has suffered three of the four worst K-12 school shootings in history, every single mass public shooting has occurred in a gun-free zone. Unsurprisingly, killers try to avoid armed resistance.

Killers consciously select defenseless targets. Just look at the statements by the attackers in the 2015 Charleston, S.C., church shooting and the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Last year, an ISIS sympathizer planned to massacre a church in Detroit. The FBI recorded him saying, "It's easy, and a lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church."

Would you put a "Gun-Free Zone" sign on your home? Likely not. We also should not do so on our schools. We need to protect the children and teachers in our country, not advertise their vulnerability.

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