The Gun Lobby’s False Claims About “Gun-Free Zones”

Bottom Line: The gun lobby’s claims that so-called “gun-free zones” endanger Americans are inconsistent with evidence about the circumstances of gun violence in America today. And by blaming the victims of our country’s too-frequent shootings for not being armed, proponents of this flawed claim attempt to twist these tragedies into an argument for putting guns in the hands of anyone, anywhere, with no questions asked.

An analysis of mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2015 shows that only a fraction of these incidents happened in places where carrying a firearm is restricted.

  • Of 133 mass shootings identified between January 2009 and July 2015, only 17 (13%) took place in “gun-free zones” (areas where the carrying of concealed guns is prohibited). The remaining incidents took place in private residences, or public places where concealed guns could be lawfully carried.“Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings.” Everytown for Gun Safety. July 2014. Recent examples include the following:
    • On July 5, 2012 in Oak Creek, WI, a 40-year-old man fatally shot six people at a Sikh temple. Under Wisconsin law, a person can bring a weapon into a place of worship unless that place has informed congregants that they cannot or there is a sign. Amardeep Kaleka, whose father founded the temple and was killed, confirmed that there was no sign.Follman, Mark. "The NRA Myth of Gun-free Zones." Mother Jones. April 1, 2013.
    • On September 6, 2011 in Carson City, NV, a 32-year-old man with a history of mental health commitments and a protective order against him fatally shot four people including three National Guard members at an IHOP restaurant. IHOP allows franchises to decide their own firearm policies, and this franchise allows the concealed carry of firearms on their premises.“Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings.” Everytown for Gun Safety. July 2014.
    • On April 13, 2013 in Herkimer, NY, a 64-year-old man killed two people at John’s Barbershop and then killed two people at Gaffey’s Fast Lube. Gaffey’s Fast Lube allows permit holders to carry concealed weapons on the premises. Though John’s Barbershop did not reopen, the owner of a neighboring business did not recall that the store prohibited firearms.Ibid.

Armed citizens rarely successfully defend themselves in mass shootings or during other crimes; in fact, in several mass shootings an armed citizen nearly endangered other bystanders, instead.

  • On January 1, 2011 in Tucson, AZ, a 22-year-old male fatally shot six and wounded fourteen at a supermarket where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was hosting an event. It was lawful to carry a firearm at the venue, and an armed bystander, Joe Zamudio, later told the press that he almost shot a bystander after the shooting because they had retrieved the shooter’s gun and he had mistaken them for an assailant. Zamudio said, “I could have very easily done the wrong thing and hurt a lot more people.”Hennessy-Fiske, Molly, and Neela Banerjee. "Armed Bystander's Reaction in Ariz. Shootings Illustrates Complexity of Gun Debate." The Denver Post. January 16, 2011.
  • While the gun lobby claims that armed citizens routinely avert crimes, national research by the Department of Justice indicates that people rarely use guns to defend themselves in this way. According to an analysis of 14,000 responses to the National Victimization Survey, victims of crimes involving personal contact with the perpetrator use guns less than one percent of the time.Hemenway, David. “Does owning a gun make you safer?” August 4, 2014. LA Times.

While the gun lobby has claimed that perpetrators of mass shootings choose their targets based on whether the carrying of firearms is restricted, subsequent evidence has shown this to be false.

  • A regular shill for the gun lobby, John Lott, routinely distorts facts to bolster his claims that “these killers don’t attack randomly; they keep picking the few gun-free zones to do virtually all their attacks.”Lott, John. “Gun free zones an easy target for killers.” June 18, 2015 On multiple occasions he has written that “Since at least 1950, all but two public mass shootings in America have taken place where general citizens are banned from carrying guns,”Lott, John. “Take a gun to the mall.” Chicago Tribune. February 24, 2015. although this is completely at odds with evidence Everytown assembled over just the last seven years.
  • Lott has claimed the perpetrator of the attack in Aurora “didn’t go to the closest or the largest [movie theater], but the one that banned self defense.”Ibid. In fact, the perpetrator of that shooting kept an extensive diary outlining his plans, which included diagrams of the theater and pros and cons lists, and gave no indication in any of these entries that he was interested in or cared about the theater’s policy towards firearms.Follman, Mark. "5 Chilling Pages From the Aurora Mass Shooter's Diary Debunk a Favorite NRA Talking Point." Mother Jones. May 29, 2015.

The push against “gun-free zones” is consistent with the gun lobby’s efforts to advance its agenda of guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime—no questions asked.

  • Guns on Campus and in Schools: The gun lobby has made it a priority in recent years to introduce bills in legislatures across the country that would force colleges and universities to allow guns on campus, and would allow guns into K-12 schools, even as the major stakeholders—from students and parents to teachers and administrators—have resisted this legislative push.
    • So far in 2015, 24 states have introduced legislation to force guns onto college campuses, allow guns in public K-12 schools, or both.Campus: AR, CO, FL, GA, IN, MT, NC, NV, OK, OR, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, WV, WY; K-12: AR, CO, FL, IA, IL, MI, MO, MT, NC, ND, NV, OK, PA, TN, TX, VA, WA, WY. Only one bill, in Texas, was enacted, after being rewritten to give college presidents discretion to decide where to allow guns on campus.TX SB 11.
  • Permitless Carry: In addition, the gun lobby has pushed legislation in many states this year that would have dismantled state concealed carry permitting systems and let people carry concealed, loaded guns in public without a permit or safety training. This permitless carry legislation lowers the bar for who may carry concealed handguns in public—in many states it would let violent criminals and people with no safety training legally carry in crowded town centers and on city streets.
    • So far in 2015, 22 states have introduced permitless carry legislation.CO, GA, IA, ID, IN, KS, ME, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, NH, NV, OH, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, WV. Only two of these bills passed as introduced.KS SB 45, ME SB 245.

When it comes to their own public safety, gun lobby-backed politicians adopt restrictions on carrying firearms.

  • Quicken Loans Arena, the site of the August 16, 2015 Republican Presidential debate, restricts the carrying of firearms.“In accordance with the Ohio’s “concealed carry” law and the right for private entities to ban handguns on their premises, firearms and other weapons of any kind are strictly forbidden on the premises of Quicken Loans Arena."