Rep. Thomas Massie, John Lott: Gun-free zones need to go. They are not only ineffective, they're dangerous

The tragedy at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center fits an all too familiar pattern—yet another mass shooting in a place the victims were banned from carrying guns. The most lives are claimed in places where people can’t defend themselves on equal footing. It’s not a coincidence the attack occurred in a public building filled with public employees prohibited from carrying handguns, concealed or otherwise.

This attack could have ended with much less bloodshed. Kate Nixon, a compliance manager at the municipal center, was concerned about a fellow employee and spoke with her husband the night before the attack about taking her permitted, concealed carry handgun to work. However, the city bans individuals, including public employees, from possessing "any weapon" on city property unless authorized by a supervisor so she decided against it. Unlike his law-abiding colleagues, the killer didn’t abide by the ban. Kate Nixon was one of the 12 people killed in the attack.

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This pattern of attacks at gun-free zones isn’t limited to workplace shootings: 98 percent  of all mass public shootings in the U.S. since 1950 have occurred in places where the average citizen was banned from possessing guns.\

Banks, churches, sports stadiums, and many members of Congress are protected with firearms. Yet children inside the classroom are too frequently left vulnerable. To combat this, Rep. Thomas Massie, co-author of this op-ed, introduced H.R. 3200 last week, a bill that repeals the Gun-Free School Zones Act (GFSZA) of 1990.

Twenty states, to varying degrees, allow teachers to carry—some of these states have had their laws in place for decades. The Safe Students Act would make it easier for state and local governments to unambiguously set their own firearm policies by eliminating the one-size-fits-all federal ban on guns in school zones.

Banks, churches, sports stadiums, and many members of Congress are protected with firearms. Yet children inside the classroom are too frequently left vulnerable.

Safe Students Act cosponsors currently include Representatives Justin Amash, R-Mich., Jody Hice, R-Ga., Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, James Comer, R-Ky., and Brian Babin, R-Texas.

The Crime Prevention Research Center has released a new report examining every school shooting in the United States from 2000 through 2018.

There were 306 documented cases of gunshots on school property, 48 of which were suicides. Not counting suicides, 193 people died and 267 were injured in these incidents. Four cases were instances of accidental gunshots by police officers.

The rate of school shootings and the number of people killed by them has increased significantly since 2000. The annual death rate from 2009-2018 was twice that of 2001-2008 (even when one excludes suicides). This increase has occurred exclusively among schools that don’t allow concealed carry for teachers and staff. Indeed, with the exception of suicides or gang violence outside of school hours, no school that allows teachers to carry has experienced a death or injury from a shooting.

Utah, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and parts of Oregon allowed all permitted teachers and staff to carry without any additional training requirements. Other states left it to the discretion of local superintendents or school boards. As of December 2018, teachers carried handguns in more than 30 percent of Texas school districts. And in September 2018, Ohio teachers were carrying in over 200 school districts.

According to Clark Aposhian, senior member of Utah’s Concealed Firearm Review Board, roughly 5 percent of Utah teachers carry permitted, concealed handguns at school. Aposhian estimates that support staff — janitors, librarians, secretaries, cafeteria staff, etc. — carry at a higher rate, between 10 and 12 percent.

Seventeen million Americans have concealed handgun permits. This is 8.5 percent of the adult population when one excludes permit-unfriendly California and New York. Nobody knows whether the person next to them might have a gun. Carrying in a school isn’t really any different from carrying in a grocery store, a movie theater, or a restaurant.

The rate of school shootings and the number of people killed by them has increased significantly since 2000. Yet no school that allows teachers to carry has experienced a death or injury from a shooting.

No student has ever taken a teacher’s gun. In fact, the only accidental discharge occurred outside of school hours and resulted in minor injuries for the teacher in possession of the handgun.

Moreover, school insurance premiums haven’t risen as a result of allowing teachers to carry.

“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 has a survey of six other states shown any increase in insurance costs.

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Police are essential, but they can't be everywhere at once.  Even if an officer is stationed at a school, shooters are most likely to target him first. We’ve seen this time and again at malls, nightclubs, and schools. By contrast, concealed carry means would-be shooters won't know who is armed. Even if they take an officer by surprise, they must consider they are revealing their position to someone else who has the potential to stop them.

Gun control groups paint a frightening picture of what might go wrong if teachers carry concealed firearms, but that fear loses credibility in light of the overwhelming success of concealed carry at schools. Armed teachers deter attackers. It is past time for us to pass common sense gun laws that work.

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John R. Lott, Jr. is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of nine books including "More Guns, Less Crime." Follow him on Twitter @johnrlottjr.