Talking Point: Gun-free zones

Claim: Second amendment supporters claim that gun-free zones attract mass shooters.

Rank: debatableA common talking point when discussing mass shootings is that they occur in gun-free zones and that mass shooters choose them because there will not be anybody to stop them.  Second amendment supporters claim that eliminating gun-free zones would make people more safe as there will be people who are armed that can stop a shooter. Many Republican politicians and President Donald Trump support scaling back of gun-free zones and some states have moved to expand places where one can carry a gun.

Typically, gun-free zones include airports, schools, college campuses, police stations and polling places.  Some businesses may disallow firearms on their property in accordance to local laws. These areas tend to be places where large number of people are known to gather.

To support the claim, second amendment supporters often cite the work of economist John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC).  Lott’s book, More Guns, Less Crime, has been debated in both academics and politics.  His conclusion is that crime data over multiple years show that states with “right to carry” laws see reductions in crime.  Another conclusion of his research was that since 1950, there has only been two mass shootings that has happened outside of gun-free zones.

Critics of Lott’s research state that Lott does not account for other factors that account for crime.  In some cases, he has been accused of manipulating data.  A number of mass shootings are not included in Lott’s research because he claims they were part of another crime.  The National Academies of Sciences published in 2005 that the raw data does not support Lott’s conclusion.

Mother Jones did a study and did not find any evidence that mass shooters chose to target a location because it was gun-free.  The study noted that some shootings took place in the workplace, some took place at schools where the killer had a connection, and that some were suicides (either by their hand or by cop).

This debate does highlight an issue clouding the discussion. There is no agreed-upon standard of what constitutes a mass shooting.  The Federal government does not even have a single standard.  There are some questions as to what constitutes a gun-free zone.  For example, some people consider military bases to be gun-free zones even though armed security guards are present.  In general, the meaning of gun-free is that civilians are not permitted to carry firearms.


Due to the fact that there are multiple standards on what constitutes a mass shooting or even a gun-free zone, there are multiple studies each with different conclusions.  On the other hand, there is a strong correlation between mass shootings and gun-free zones.  However, correlation does not mean causation.

Those who claim that gun-free zones attract mass shooters tend to not consider other factors could lead a shooter choosing to target a location.  These other factors include the shooter’s ties to the location or even the fact that the locations tend to be target rich environments.  The evidence supporting the claim is not conclusive.  For this reason, the claim is debatable.

References and Further Reading


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