- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

Meathead asked Archie Bunker of "All in the Family" sitcom fame, What are you gonna do about airplane hijackers?

"First, youse arm all your passengers," readily replied Archie. Ha, ha, more tortured logic from that lovable knucklehead. Everyone conjures up a picture of passengers shooting up the plane and each other at the drop of the hat. Gun nuts like Archie cannot think.

Archie's remedy is inept for the airline problem but what about his idea on terra firma, where most criminal attacks occur and there is no pressure-controlled cabin to worry about?

From Colin Ferguson's Long Island Railroad massacre to Columbine High School to the slaying of seven coworkers at an internet consulting firm near Boston, Mass., on Dec. 26, mass public shootings leave us stunned and horrified. What can be done to cut down on these shocking assaults on public safety? The nation averages about 20 such shootings per year, very rare events compared to other offenses.

After each one of these aberrant events, uplifters insist on more gun regulations longer waiting periods, more restrictive gun purchases, nearly any new government control. Enthusiasm for these regulations is undiminished by the complete absence of any evidence showing the proposed regulations actually reduce public shootings. The real agenda does not seem to be a solution to a public-safety problem but rather an expansion in the power of government over citizens.

Fortunately, however, there is a law highly correlated with a sharp drop in multiple killings: a shall-issue or right-to-carry concealed hand gun law. This kind of law mandates that if a citizen meets certain objective criteria like age and no criminal history, then he or she shall be issued a permit to carry a concealed handgun if he or she applies for one.

The number of mass public shootings plummets by 85 percent, mass murders drop 89 percent, and injuries plunge 82 percent in the 14 states that have adopted shall-issue carry laws between 1977 and 1995, according to a thorough study by William Landes of the University of Chicago and John Lott of Yale University, (see the second edition of Mr. Lott's book, "More Guns, Less Crime," for partial results). Most of the decline comes in the first year of the law, leaving little doubt about the cause, although the effect increases the longer the law is in effect.

These huge effects withstand the exhaustive statistical torture of multiple equations and respecifications to control for the independent effect of factors like arrest rates, sentencing practices, income and population characteristics. Nor are there any detectable ill consequences to offset these dramatic gains, like an increase in bombings.

Econometric results often are muddled and disputed yet "the results of this study were the starkest and most surprising I have ever encountered in a lifetime of research," remarks Mr. Lott.

No other laws help. For example, higher arrest rates for murder, although they deter murderers, have no effect on perpetrators of mass public shootings. The death penalty has no effect either since the perpetrators usually plan to take their own lives anyway. And longer waiting periods for gun purchases have no statistical impact either. Police cannot be everywhere, so citizens must protect themselves. Violent nut cases are rational in the sense that they consider potential citizen resistance. Some wannabe shooters decide to not attempt a massacre because their chances of success decline if armed citizens are around, and those who try often are interrupted by armed citizens acting in self-defense, cutting down on the damage the killer wants to do.

The deterrent effect of right-to-carry laws is far bigger on mass public shootings than on conventional violent crimes. This makes sense because the odds of a criminal encountering an armed citizen in public places are much higher than for the usual crime involving only a few people.

Licensed concealed handgun carriers have proven to be major public benefactors and their rights are now protected in 31 states. States with serious infringements on the right-of-self-defense account for 9 of 10 mass public shootings. Legislators in these 18 states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin) can learn from the success of the other states: Adopt right-to-carry laws and cut down mass public shootings by 80 percent to 90 percent. Saving innocent lives through right-to-carry laws requires legislators in these laggard states, including Massachusetts, to display some courage.

Morgan Reynolds is director of the Criminal Justice Center National Center for Policy Analysis.

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