Last year there was a shooting at Umpqua community college and there was discussion among some people as to whether or not gun free zones attract some of the shooters who engage in mass shootings.
People have taken both sides of the debate and a person can skew the statistics about gun free zone deaths by how you define a mass shooting and to a lesser extent, how you define a gun free zone.
Is it a “mass shooting” when a man murders some of his own family and then kills himself? If you include the murder-suicides of family members in what you call mass shootings, then, you dramatically change your statistics about the relationship between gun free zones and shootings. On the other hand, if you consider a public place in which it is or was illegal to open carry and extremely difficult to get a permit to concealed carry as a gun free zone, then, that makes things worse for “gun free zones,” even though a typical McDonalds is not necessarily a gun free zone, or was not in the past.
The reason that the question is important is that various colleges become or cease to become gun free zones. Usually we can think of the courthouse as a gun free zone, but there are other areas which are considered to be gun free simply based on a rule or law, and not because there are security checkpoints at which everyone is screened.
In September 2013, CNN had an article on the 30 deadliest mass shootings. For the sake of not being biased in our definition of mass shooting, lets consider the ten worst mass shootings in terms of death and injury as of September 2013. The researcher John Lott has been accused of bias and of skewing things, so lets do our independent analysis.
The ten worst mass shootings run from Virginia tech with 32 dead in 2007 to 13 people killed at an illegal gambling club in Seattle in 1983.
The illegal gambling club was presumably not a gun free zone. That leaves 9 other mass shootings. Seven of the nine were in areas by law, rule or regulation or private property decree that were gun free zones. Two of the nine were in gun-inhibited zones, such as the McDonalds in San Ysidro California in 1984. By California law it was illegal to open carry your handgun and it was also very difficult in urban areas to obtain a permit to concealed carry. So, although the McDonalds in San Diego county was not an official “gun free zone,” it was a gun-carry-inhibited area.
Do killers choose gun-free zones for their shootings? As much as we would imagine that a killer would not plan ahead in that way, the fact is that we have evidence that some of them do. Some killers write or post in ways that tell us about their plans, intentions and motivations before or after the fact.
The shooter of the people at Isla Vista wrote a 141 page manifesto. Before his shooting, he considered other targets. He declined to shoot up a festival because he saw videos on youtube of previous years of the festival. He could see enough police presence that he believed he would be taken out quickly. Instead, he then choose to shoot up people near a college.
James Holmes, the shooter at the Batman movie in 2012 chose the only gun-free movie theatre in his area. It status as a gun-free area is clearly marked with signs. Holmes killed 12 and wounded 58. There were 7 movie theatres within 20 minutes of Holmes. Holmes chose a theatre that was neither the closest to his home nor the most well attended. If his goal was to kill as many as possible, then, his desire was facilitated by the Cinemark theatres gun-free-theatre zone policy.
The Westroads mall in Omaha saw a mass shooting and so did the Trolley Mall in Salt Lake City. Both were allegedly gun-free private properties and were in the vicinity of other malls which allowed carry.
The spread of gun-free-zones does not make those zones safer unless they are manned by security checkpoints and metal detectors, or, conceivably, in the case of a bar.
There was a shooting at SPU in 2014. People forget some of the details. The shooter was taken down by a man with pepper spray, who constantly carried it to be prepared for emergencies. The shooter was taken down when he paused to reload.
Other shooters and other killers in other situations have been taken down before they were reloading by those with arms.