Anyone who has a gun worshiper as their friend on social media or travels in conservative circles has heard this before: Gun-free zones are responsible for mass shootings. If only we had more guns, everyone would be safer.
That’s the argument, anyway. It’s not true, but that hasn’t stopped discredited gun researcher John Lott from blaming “gun-free zones” in South Carolina churches for the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
John Lott’s “more guns, less truth” argument
If you’ve heard the phrase “more guns, less crime,” you can thank John Lott for it. Lott, who has a PhD in economics, is the inventor of the phrase, and like all good NRA-shills, invented research to back up his claim:
Ian Ayres and John Donohue wrote a paper that found that, if anything, concealed carry laws lead to more crime. Lott, (along with Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley) wrote a reply where they argued that using data up to 2000 confirmed the “more guns, less crime” hypothesis. In Ayres and Donohue’s response to that paper, they found that Lott’s data contained numerous coding errors that, when corrected, reversed the results. Furthermore, this was the second time these sorts of errors had been found in Lott’s data. Lott had presented to the NAS panel figures showing sharp declines in crime following carry laws. Declines which disappeared when the coding errors were corrected. Finally, when Lott saw Ayres and Donohue’s response he had his name removed from the final paper.
Contrary to Lott’s claims, the rate of gun ownership positively correlates with crime, meaning that a more accurate representation of Lott’s argument isn’t “more guns, less crime” it’s “more guns, more crime” or, to put a fine point on it, “more guns, fewer facts.”
“The ban only ensured that the victims were vulnerable.”
While writing about the June 17 church shooting on the website of his group, “Crime Prevention Research Center,” Lott wrote:
Not surprising that yet another mass public shooting has taken place where guns were banned. Yet, again, the ban only ensured that the victims were vulnerable.
Lott went so far as to entitle the article, Another Shooting in a Gun-free Zone: Nine Dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In his article, Lott offers a “synopsis” of South Carolina law, which he pulled from an article on CriminalDefenseLaywer.com, and used that to argue that South Carolina law prohibited people from taking guns into churches and some other locations, leading to “gun-free zones.”
Of course, what Lott conveniently ignored is that the actual law, S.C. Code Ann.§ 23-31-215, gives people the legal right to carry firearms into church if they have a CCL and the permission of a church official:
M) A permit issued pursuant to this section does not authorize a permit holder to carry a concealable weapon into a:[…]
(8) church or other established religious sanctuary unless express permission is given by the appropriate church official or governing body;
Similarly, Lott also misrepresented South Carolina law in an opinion piece at FoxNews.com, writing “the massacre took place in a gun-free zone, a place where the general public was banned from having guns.” He added, “Churches, like the one in Charleston, preach peace, but the killer there probably chose that target because he knew the victims were defenseless.”
The myth of the “gun-free zone” hazard
Perhaps Emanuel AME’s church had a policy of not allowing guns in the presence of Jesus. Regardless, as Media Matters notes, the “gun-free zone” argument is a red herring: there’s no evidence that “gun-free zones” are more dangerous than places that allow guns, or are targeted more frequently for mass shooters.
According to an Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of mass shootings from January 2009 to July 2014, “Seventy-seven of the 110 incidents (70%) took place wholly in private residences. Of the 33 incidents in public spaces, at least 18 took place wholly or in part where concealed guns could be lawfully carried.”
Similarly, a Mother Jones analysis of 62 mass shootings over a period of 30-years found that there wasn’t a single instance were the gunman picked a location because of its gun policy. More often than not, the reason was some other motive; for instance, “20 were workplace shootings, most of which involved perpetrators who felt wronged by employers and colleagues.”
That appears to be the case with Emanuel AME, which authorities are reportedly investigating as a hate crime.
The psychology of the gun-free zone myth, however, ensures it’s here to stay. It’s one part fear — fear of the other, the belief that a weapon designed for offense can be used defensively — but it’s also tied neatly into the discredited idea of “more guns, less crime.”
And until we can shake the idea of “more guns, less crime,” we won’t be able to shake the “gun-free zone” myth.
Featured image via Media Matters