Making Schools Safe for Criminals

By Dr. Linda Gorman

April 23, 1999, Denver Post. More by the Independence Institute on Columbine.

Feelings can overwhelm people brutalized by tragedies like the Columbine High School murders. Grief, hatred, fear and shock shake their foundations. Reason is buried under an avalanche of strong emotion, and the ancient urge to kill the bearer of bad news surfaces with a vengeance. In modern times this takes the form of impassioned, emotional pleas for firearms prohibitions. Even before the bodies were removed from the school, Denver newspapers received articles using the massacre as a news hook to call for gun prohibitions.

Emotion, not reason, prompts the calls for stricter gun control laws. Britain has some of the most onerous gun control laws in the world. They did not prevent the Dunblane massacre. New York has some of the most anti-gun regulations in the United States. They did not prevent the Long Island Railroad massacre. Canadian's severe gun laws did not stop the mass murder of female students at the Ecole Polytechnique university in Montreal. Colorado has laws against murder, assault, exploding bombs in public places and destroying school property. The laws did not prevent these two young men from murdering, setting off over 30 bombs, or destroying Columbine High School.

What Colorado's law did do was disarm law-abiding citizens and leave them at the mercy of two gun-toting predators. By all accounts, the shooters knew that they had superior force. They reveled in the power that it gave them. For two hours, they roamed the school killing unarmed victims at will. Compare this with the outcome when three terrorists attempted to machine-gun a crowd in Jerusalem in 1984. Handgun-carrying Israelis immediately downed the terrorists, and only one innocent person died. The surviving terrorist said that his group had planned to make their escape before police could respond. They had not realized that Israeli citizens were armed.

In the United States, two students were murdered in an October 1997 shooting spree at a high school in Pearl, Miss. Deaths were limited because an assistant principal went to his car, got his gun and shot the shooter. In Edinboro, Pa., a teacher was murdered. When the shooter stopped to reload, a bystander pointed a shotgun at him, preventing additional deaths. John R. Lott and William Landes examined these and other cases of mass public shootings in the United States. They found that from 1977 to 1995, deaths from mass public shootings declined by 90 percent, and injuries by 82 percent, in states that passed concealed handgun laws.

Does "easy access" to guns contribute to massacres like the one at Columbine? Across countries, there is no predictable relationship between gun ownership, or "access," and murder rates. The Swiss, New Zealanders and Finns all own guns at very high rates. All three countries have lower murder rates. Finland and Sweden have similar murder rates despite big differences in gun ownership. If easy access truly does contribute to the frequency of massacres, one would expect to have seen more mass murders in the 1950s. At that time any Colorado 14-year-old could buy a gun with no questions asked. Such "easy access" is now unthinkable. Massacres, like those at Chuck E Cheese and Columbine, are not.

The best available data show that shall-issue concealed-carry laws reduce the number of murders by giving law-abiding citizens the power to resist. Absent an equally effective alternative, this means that people who support gun control laws also support a public policy that we know increases deaths and injuries. In Boulder, school officials have complained that they cannot afford "airport-like" metal detectors. The Columbine gunmen started shooting on their way into the school. How would a metal detector have made a difference?

Gun-control supporters also parade a touching faith in the therapeutic effect of counseling sessions, and classes on parenting techniques, anger management, mutual respect and tolerance. The effectiveness of such interventions is questionable. The murderers were apparently bright teenagers who resisted authority, celebrated Adolph Hitler, and purposefully set themselves apart by behaving unconventionally. People want to believe that running these kinds of kids through a couple of canned touchy-feely group sessions would have magically unkinked their twisted psyches. Such beliefs may be emotionally satisfying. They are not reasonable.

For those whose emotional response to the Columbine High murders is "never again," there is only one reasonable response. Laws that disarm adults in schools make schools a safe zone for criminals. The data overwhelmingly show that law-abiding citizens use guns responsibly. When law-abiding citizens have guns, crime rates fall and mass murderers murder less. Shooting back, or threatening to, saves lives. Thanks to gun-control advocates, none of the teachers had that choice at Columbine High.

Dr. Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden,

Other writings from the Independence Institute on Columbine.  

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