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By ShootingTheBull410

It is a recurrent theme on gun forums and gun blogs that the Bush-era laws designating schools as “Gun Free Zones” have somehow turned our schools into veritable all-you-can-shoot buffets for prospective mass murderers. Whenever one of these horrific school shooting tragedies happen, you can count on blogs, posts and comments popping up blaming the “Gun Free Zone” law for making schools such an inviting target. The conventional wisdom says that “criminals know that schools are full of unarmed victims” . . .

But is that true? Not necessarily. At least, a cursory examination of the available data doesn’t lead me to that conclusion. Now, this isn’t a scientific paper, this isn’t exhaustive research, this is just scanning some Wikipedia articles and looking up the references, but the results were interesting enough that I thought it merited some attention.

Here’s the thing – we can’t always ask school shooters what their thought processes were in selecting their targets. School shooters frequently die during their assaults (either through turning their weapons on themselves, or in an encounter with police). So we’re left wondering why these attacks happen at schools. And yes, it’s easy to say “because the criminals know there’s nobody there who will stop them” but I think that’s low-hanging fruit, I think that’s an easy crutch to lean on, but it doesn’t necessarily accurately answer the question. And if we don’t know the root cause, how can we hope to fix the problem?

Accordingly, I took a brief, simple look at the central question that, to me, seems important in this subject: WHY do shooters choose to conduct their shootings at schools? My paltry research was a dissection of Wikipedia’s list of School Shootings In The United States. I have limited my research (if I can even use that term) to the 1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s, and 2010’s. I chose the 1980’s because they’re the decade right before the Gun Free Zones law came into being, and wanted to compare that decade to the subsequent decades since the law was introduced.

The fundamental question I have is —

a) are these school shootings the result of a random criminal choosing a random school because they felt they could get away with murdering someone at a school, or

b) are they instead committed by people who have an intrinsic tie to the school itself, people for whom the particular school is either a place where they attend, attended, or work/worked at? Or

c) did the shooting take place at a school because that’s where the intended target happened to be?

Note: these are not “mass shootings”, these are shootings that happened at schools. Some of them will be a case of a student firing a single shot at another student or teacher, or a case of a student committing suicide by firearm at school, or they will be cases of mass murderers choosing a school as their target, etc.

Okay, on to the data:

In the 1980’s, there are 30 incidents listed. Of those, the overwhelming majority are cases of students shooting other students or teachers. One (Rosie Pearson) was shot by an unknown assailant, so that may or may not have been connected, we don’t know. I could only find three instances in the entire decade of a person apparently completely unconnected with the school, going into the school and shooting people: one was James William Wilson, who was clearly not in his right mind (having been in and out of a hospital psychiatric ward several times in the prior 8 months); the second was the most disturbing case, Laurie Dann – a seriously, seriously messed-up young lady, who gave off so many warning signs it’s astonishing that someone didn’t recognize the danger; and the third was the Cleveland Elementary school shooting in Stockton by Patrick Purdy.

A possible connection was the Cokeville Elementary School situation, wherein the former (and sole) police officer in Cokeville, Wyoming was fired. He moved to Arizona, but chose to go back to Wyoming to attack the school in Cokeville. I can’t say that’s a random person targeting a random school because of easy targets; clearly he intended to get revenge on his former town. Even so, I can’t say quite why he chose the school, so I’d say it could possibly be consideredan “unconnected” shooting. That makes between three and five incidents out of 30 that are unconnected, meaning that in 83% to 90% of the cases, there was a very direct tie between the shooter and the school.

In the 1990’s, of 31 incidents listed, I can only find 4 where the shooter wasn’t specifically identified as being a student, employee, or graduate of that particular school. And one of those, Gregory Heath Tidwell, went to the school specifically to shoot one specific person who he had previously had a scuffle with, so it wasn’t in any way a “random” shooting, it just so happened that it took place on a campus. There was only one that I’d actually categorize as a “random school shooting”, by Jillian Robbins. I can’t find out if Joseph Todd was a student at the school where he shot at or not, but he was only 14 and it was a rural school so it seems likely (few schools around, and he was school-age, and his stated reason for shooting was that he was “tired of being picked on”). There was one shooting where the shooter was unidentified, so they may or may not have been associated with the school. So for the ’90’s, the way I see it, 27 (or 28) of the 31 reported shootings were done by a student or graduate of the school. That’s 87% to 90%.

In the 2000’s, there were 34 incidents. Of those, the Essex shooting was a targeted assassination, the shooter killed his ex-girlfriend’s mother at home and then drove to the school where the ex worked and shot her there. Only three incidents (the Platte Canyon hostage crisis, the Amish school shooting, and the San Francisco Int’l Studies shooting) seem to fit the definition of an unassociated person choosing to make an attack at a school. And one of the 34 incidents had nothing to do with the school at all, it was a gang assassination of a 26-year-old who just happened to be at the school picking up his girlfriend’s son.

Another gang shooting happened in a parking lot after a basketball game, in Chicago — does that count as a random school shooting? I’d say maybe. And there was a drug-related shooting at Harvard, which I think would certainly not count as a “school shooting” other than it happened in a basement in an undergrad resident hall. So of 34 incidents, 3 to 4 would qualify as an attack on random people at a school by an unassociated criminal, for an 88% to 91% rate of the shootings having been committed by students or former students who had a connection to the school.

In the 2010’s, there’s been 37 incidents. Of those, the Deer Creek Littleton was an unassociated guy shooting at students. And in Carlsbad a guy chose to shoot “wealthy children” at an elementary — so that fits the definition of unassociated. One of the shootings (Topeka) was a drug-buy-gone-bad, so nothing to do with the school other than it happened in the parking lot late at night. In Aurora there was a gang shooting at a group of students — not exactly a random targeting or choosing a school because of a plentiful supply of unarmed victims, just typical gang assassination. And one was a guy shooting his wife in a school parking garage. One shooting at Virginia Tech appeared to be unrelated to the shooter, but he assassinated a police officer who was writing a parking ticket, so that hardly counts as preying on a school for unarmed victims.

Can’t figure out the Chardon school shooting — it sure seems like it’s a case of an unassociated person attacking a school; the shooter says he didn’t know the victims but the witnesses said he appeared to be targeting one person in particular. Lacking any other perspective, I’ll put it in the column of unassociated shooter. The Hazard, KY shooting was a domestic dispute that terminated at a school. The Alabama school bus/bunker hostage situation was definitely a random event, near as I can tell. And one of the incidents it listed was the Boston bombers shooting a police officer at Cambridge, MA — from what I understand, that was a case of them choosing to attack an armed person specifically to take his weapon, and definitely not a case of a random/unassociated school shooting. So of 37 events, only 4 could reasonably be categorized as an outside person attacking a school. Which means 89% of the incidents were specific targeted murders and shootings by people associated with the school.

So there’s my examination of the data. What does it mean?

DecadeSchool Shooting Incidents% where there was a strong connection with the school

1980’s   31     83% to 90%

1990’s   30     87% to 90%

2000’s  34      88% to 91%

2010’s   37     (so far) 89%

What I draw from this is the notion that “criminals attack schools because they’re gun-free zones” is likely hogwash. Criminals rarely attack schools; of the roughly 105,000 schools and educational institutions in the US, there have been an average of fewer than 4 school-related shootings per year. And of those, only about 10% of the incidents can be attributed to criminals choosing to attack a school; the rest of the cases are of people who are attacking THAT school because the individual person they want dead happens to be at that school, or because they were bullied and have other such emotional ties to the school that that’s where they choose to commit their crime.

That doesn’t change the validity of the whole argument of “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” That’s plainly, blatantly, obviously true — whether the good guy with the gun is the police or a CHL holder, there are basically only two reasons why school shooters stop shooting: they either shoot themselves, or are stopped by someone with a gun.

Approximately 90% of the school shootings (as listed in that Wikipedia article) are done by troubled students or former students, or troubled/former employees of the school.

Is it fair to say that those people chose the school for their attack “because” it was a Gun Free Zone? I think not. I think they chose the school for their attack because that’s where they go every day, or that’s where they were wronged, or that’s where the specific target of their ire happens to be. I’d go out on a limb and say that the “Gun Free Zone” status had little to zero influence on why they chose to attack that school. And I think that contention is supported by the consistent ratio of affiliated-to-unaffiliated attackers before and after the implementation of the “Gun Free Zones” law.

It is my opinion, based on this admittedly thin research that the “Gun Free Zone” laws have had absolutely zero effect on school shootings in the US. These laws haven’t protected our schools in any way, nor have they incentivized aspiring mass murderers. The only thing these laws have accomplished is to assure that law-abiding citizens will be prohibited from assisting in terminating these attacks once they start.

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    • This suggests that persons who commit mass killings at schools generally have an agenda regarding that specific school. The facts seems to support this notion.

      It does not, however, change the FACT that if those schools were not gun free zones the carnage would most likely have been greatly reduced in every case. It does not change the fact that the vast majority of spree killings have occured in “gun free zones.” While the schools may not have been specially targeted as free fire no risk areas, the possibility that they would not have been targeted at all if the shooter believed he would likely face early and effective armed resistance cannot be so lightly dismissed.

  1. Interesting, and your data makes the conclusion almost obvious. It does seem likely that there are a variety of other, more compelling reasons that these murderers committed the murder in a school than the GFZ angle. I think the logical next question is to ask if the GFS law has saved any lives (doubtful but likely unknowable), and how many lives has it cost? If the answer to the first question is either arguably none or unknowable, and the answer to the second is more than none, and it likely is, then it’s a terrible law.

    Thanks for injecting some facts into the debate, the more you know and all. . .

    • Only way to find that out is to compare the average number of school victims per shooting to the victims of other non-gun free zone shootings. Split it up by area, workplace, armed schools, public parks, etc then overall. I nearly guarantee that areas with *anyone* legally armed have a lower average victim per shooting. You’d get outliers of course, like Aurora’s armed guard running away and chatting with the cops in the parking lot.

    • “If it can save even one life..”, right. Sounds like if it can save even one life, GFZs should still be abolished.

  2. Ok, even if they’re not attacking the school because it is a gun free zone (and you’ve lumped all shootings where individual(s) were targeted with spree shootings where motive was a high body count a la Va Tech); was the fact it was a gun free zone an enabler?

    That is– even if it being a gun free zone wasn’t an incentive, did it preclude the possibility of the presence of a good guy as a gun being a disincentive? Would they have carried out the attacks, particularly the spree killings, if they weren’t gun free zones?

    • Again, it’s difficult to know without being able to ask the shooter what their intentions and motivations are. However, seeing as pretty much the exact same percentage of random attackers chose schools when there was NO “Gun Free Zone” law, as chose to attack schools when there WAS a “Gun Free Zone” law, leads me to believe that they really just don’t know or care about the “Gun Free Zone” status of the targets.

      I think we perhaps can be guilty of attributing our own intelligence and motivations to others. I mean, any reasonable thinking human being could make a logical case of “the safest place for me to attack others would be in a place where there are no armed guards or armed civilians to stop me.” It’s logical. But I just don’t see logic as being the prime motivator behind these shootings. It seems like emotion is the prime motivating factor. People who kill other people are usually pretty emotionally fired up, and not necessarily thinking with their brains, they’re thinking with their hearts (and, presumably, those hearts are pretty black by the time they get to the point where they’re going to murder someone or more than someone).

      If there is some source of data that lays out spree shooting killers’ motivations, I’m unaware of it, but that would be where we could find an answer, if there is one.

      • Yep. Since most spree killers are crazy, I don’t think they understand their own motivations. I don’t think talking to them will provide much insight other than– this guys head is a bag of cats. The other problem of course is, most spree killers end up dead which leaves us with just their writings/video in the modern age, and the accounts of folks who knew them. An even murkier pool of self-delusion, denial, and conflicting motivations to sort through.
        Unlike serial killers where the FBI profilers have been able to study the crimes than talk to the perpetrators, seperating the BS, lies from reality to understand motivations, they haven’t been able to do the same thing with spree killers.

        I think schools have pretty much always been gun free zones even prior to the federal law. I agree with the author that a lot of school shootings would fall under a workplace violence category if they’d happened elsewhere. Disgruntled employee.

        • “Crazy” does not mean an inability to analyze a problem and work out a plan. People we deem as crazy are not necessarily driven by pure emotion. Our latest mass murder has demonstrated that a disturbed individual is quite capable of formulating and executing a complex plan. Sociopaths are generally quire calculating. I don’t think people realize how technically easy it is to be a professional killer. Anybody who has had intelligence or undercover training has the skills to do it. The one thing that is required, and where most of us would fail, is to not have a conscience i.e.,under most circumstances one must be a sociopath.

        • Yet, how did this well put together plan relate to his issues? Was this any kind of solution to his issues? Were any of the victims in fact responsible personally for those issues? He can’t get a girlfriend, other folks do. How is it rational to go around killing people in response to those issues he articulates. Didn’t solve any of them at all. So, why did he really do it? It’s a well thought out plan that doesn’t truly reveal his motivations— no matter what he stated them to be. And many spree killers leave far less to go on, and how their actions relate to their actual grievances is unfathomable.

        • My point isn’t that his ultimate motivations were rational. It is that the irrational thoughts of sociopath or psychopath can be translated into rational action.

      • To some extent I find your analysis flawed because even before the gun free schools laws were passed on the national level, there were state level gun free schools laws. Plus there were policies in place in many school districts that said that no weapons were allowed on campus.

        You’d have to do a lot more research, and perform a more rigorous analysis with many more variables to be able to make any real conclusion.

        These types of simplex analyses are popular with anti-gunners, but also evidently with those that support gun rights. Popularity doesn’t make them valuable though.

      • “However, seeing as pretty much the exact same percentage of random attackers chose schools when there was NO “Gun Free Zone” law, as chose to attack schools when there WAS a “Gun Free Zone” law, leads me to believe that they really just don’t know or care about the “Gun Free Zone” status of the targets.”

        Is that actually the case though, after you take into account that murders and violent crimes involving firearms overall declined throughout this entire period of 1980-2014? The massive increase in just the first 5 years in this decade while violent crime with firearms has been declining would seem to support the opposite of the conclusion you’ve drawn.

  3. Very good article. It’s good to see actual evidence on this subject.

    From the evidence, though, I don’t think you can say that the gun-free school zones law has had absolutely no effect on school shootings. It isn’t a significant *cause* of school shootings, but it almost certainly has increased the number of casualties in mass shootings.

    • Absolutely agreed. I tried to make that point at the end — that the net effect result of the Gun Free Zone law hasn’t been to change the appeal or incidence of school shootings at all; the only thing it’s done is ensure that law abiding citizens are prevented from stopping these shootings sooner.

    • And there lies the nature of “failed” legislation. Legislation (indeed, anything designed to carry out a function) fails when it does not perform its intended function. If the federal Gun Free Schools act was designed to reduce the occurrence of firearm assault in public education facilities, and the outcome is one of the following:

      A) No effect on the incidence of firearm assault on public school property
      B) Encouraging the incidence of firearm assault on public school property

      then the legislation has failed. It really doesn’t matter what the failure mode is, if it isn’t working it needs to be repealed or modified. And honestly, since you don’t get more free than free (if “Gun Free” implies zero guns, we can’t have negative numbers of guns on campus) then the only solution is to repeal the law.

      But hey, I’m just an engineer, I don’t identify and solve problems for a living.

  4. Still though, “Gun Free Zones” have allowed more people to have been killed as a whole, compared to if there at least had been some chance of some people in some of the place been armed. As opposed to a body count of 10+, the shooter may have only been able to get 2 or 3, or maybe even 0- before they were iced by a good guy with a gun. The shootings only end when the shooter is confronted with a real armed force- in which case they are killed by that force, or usually kill themselves. Because the little picked on punks cant even handle being shot, their so afraid they kill themselves. But you cant say that it never ran through the shooters head that there would be no armed presence at the school. They were going to probably shoot it up anyway, but the fact that they knew there would be no one who could stop them definitely emboldened them.

    • I agree that it is very likely that the body count is higher because of the Gun Free Zones law.

      However, I disagree with this: “They were going to probably shoot it up anyway, but the fact that they knew there would be no one who could stop them definitely emboldened them.”

      If that were the case, wouldn’t you think we’d see a higher incidence of school shootings, and a higher proportion of unassociated school shootings, since the GFZ law was passed? Yet, we don’t… the numbers are almost exactly the same before the GFZ law, as they are after it. It doesn’t seem to have had any effect on deterring or enabling shooters.

      • Another variable…very few teachers or staff were armed in the 1980’s due to culture and no-carry laws. Schools were gun-free in practice if not law.

        Today would be different. We have CCW and an increasing acceptance of such. Surely a sign announcing ‘teachers and staff are armed – deadly force authorized’ would deter at least some crazies.

  5. I agree. I have never felt shooter’s were particularly attracted to GFZs as opposed to non-GFZs The personal connection is usually the obvious driver of events. But there is also the likelihood, with no easy way to verify it, that these perpetrators might have foregone the shooting altogether if the target of their enmity (the school or other GFZ) were NOT a GFZ. That is to say, having chosen to act out against the target of their perceived suffering, how many choose a shooting because that target is free of guns? Might they have chosen a different way to act out, were it otherwise?

    • Well, there are specific cases where the killer was known to pick a GFZ. The problem is, are they the anomaly and not statistically significant? The Va Tech killer is interesting because he did have an association with the school– but he brought chains and locks to secure the perimeter of his GFZ. He knew there would be no guns there, and took further steps by chaining doors shut to ensure no one could get out and no one could bring guns in. The Aurora shooter chose a theater with posted gun free zone signs that was further than two others which didn’t. Now, I don’t know if that was the only reason he chose that theater. Were there other features of that theater that attracted him? Or prior associations with it? Is he so far gone that even he can’t articulate why he did what he did? Is he so irrational that his reasoning can’t be understood by a rational mind?

  6. It’s more likely due to the fact that schools are a location where there’s a large concentration of people (density) in a small area, with limited entry/exit locations.

    Malls have too many entry/exit ways.

    College dorms are access controlled, thus limited entry/exit. Same for class rooms, school buildings.

    As for the latest incident, all the above does not apply. Not even in a GFZ. Just a college town with a high concentration of people on foot/bikes/etc.

    Ultimately, it’s all about the convenience. Even the beltway sniper was the same situation. Freeways have a large concentration of potential targets.

  7. We need a larger sampling of non gun free zones in similar locations to say for sure, but it is very likely that many of these incidents wouldn’t have occurred if they weren’t gun free zones. That is not to say that random psychos seek out gun free zones without any connection to the place, more like there are psychos everywhere and the fact that the place they happen to be strongly connected with happens to be a gun free zone and thus facilitates their actions.

  8. While the “gun free zone” may not be a reason the school was chosen, it doesn’t help the numbers of wounded/killed. On the other hand, non-school, GFZs might be chosen more often b/c they are GFZs. The most notable recent example being the Colorado movie theater shooter, who passed up larger, closer theaters to pick the one that was a GFZ. I don’t know if there’s a similar wikipedia list for non-school shootings that can be used to compare for GFZs and non-GFZs.

  9. If we take the opposite and extrapolate, arguably many disturbed individuals have strong disagreements and emotions about police stations and courthouses but don’t shoot these up. Perhaps the perception of armed resistance (and it’s actual fact) or lack there of do play a role in target selection. Not that someone who wants to shoot up a courthouse would instead choose a school, but rather that if armed resistance were as sure at the school they wanted to shoot up as it is at most courthouses they would choose not to attack it. A soft target may not be motive, but it could be motivating.

  10. “the “Gun Free Zone” status had little to zero influence on why they chose to attack that school”

    Perhaps, but as styrgwillidar mentioned, does the GFZ enable a mass shooter to maintain control for much longer than if everyone willing to protect children were not denied 2A civil rights?

    As for the data set, I’m not sure we have apples to apples in comparing the 80’s to everything afterward. Starting in 1986 the number of “no issue(16)/may issue(25)” states came in at 41. As of 2014 the “no issue(0)/may issue(8)” states comes in at 8. There are a lot more CHL holders now than ever possible in the 1980’s. I think that could skew the stats.

    • So, with more people carrying around the country, garden variety psychopaths may be more inclined to find high concentrations of unarmed defenseless people with few escape routes… NGZs like schools provide that outlet.

      Could this point to the >doubling of these events at schools over the last four years? (see dantheman5’s post below)

      • As to the doubling, it may be due to the proliferation of social media and documentation “outlets” which record current events as they happen and could cause the incidents on the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s to be under represented.

    • I also think you’d need to look at whether states had GFZ laws prior to the federal law, that could be significant combined with the more severe restrictions on CCW in the 80s. As states loosened the restrictions and authorized shall-issue, did they implement restrictions on carrying near/in schools?

  11. According to the numbers in the article:

    1980s: 30 incidents
    1990s: 31
    2000s: 34
    2010s: 37

    According to my computer, this is 2014, so the 2010s aren’t over yet, not for six more years. Does this data indicate that we’ve had more school shooting incidents in the first four years of the 2010s than in each preceding decade? What are the implications of that?

    Or is that just Wikipedia being Wikipedia?

  12. Your analysis looks very well reasoned. We are dealing with a very small data-set here; and, you have chosen to limit your study to schools, thereby leaving out the Aurora theater case.
    A problem I see with trying to do this analysis is that the US population is concentrated in States/cities/venues that are relatively restrictive regarding guns. So, if we compared the pattern of where mass-murders occur to a random distribution based on population concentration we might see little-to-no distinction. Furthermore, carry is still in the single-digit percentages; so low as likely to have limited impact on the decisions of “rational” actors (to say nothing of crazy people). It may be premature to even attempt any such analysis until carry percentages reach 20 – 30 or even 40%.
    Your line of inquiry suggests a possibly fruitful possibility. These school cases – together with work-place based cases – strongly suggest that these crazies were well known to be problems with a high probability. Suppose – by way of illustration – a school/work-place observed a student/worker exhibiting symptoms of a contagious disease; small pox or leprocy by way of illustration. At what point would the school/employer become liable for having failed to formally notify public health authorities of its observations? Do we conclude that a school/employer is at liberty to “See-something/say-nothing”?
    An individual has a right to eccentricity; assuming that, whatever that eccentricity might be, it represents no obvious threat to public safety. We have long accepted that where an obvious threat to public safety exists there is a commensurate loss of liberty and privacy. E.g., one may be quarantined to reduce the probability of transmission of an infectious disease.
    It seems especially so where the school/employer is a public institution: a public school; a Post Office; a police department. It seems to me that we ought to consider a legislative scheme to create a duty to report people to public mental health authorities for screening. At some point, that screening should result in a referral to the District Attorney who should be obliged to pursue some appropriate measure. (A one-way bus ticket to a neighboring State is NOT the appropriate measure.) The maximum is, obviously, commitment. A minimum is, obviously, a disablement of 2A rights, right to vote; privilege of working in sensitive environments (schools, law-enforcement, day-care, youth programs, outside customer service.)
    I don’t believe that preventing mass murder (by guns, knives or BMWs) is likely to justify any such public mental-health program. Nevertheless, it probably would be justified by identifying and treating the mentally ill before they injure themselves or others in all manner of ways that are harmful to society.
    And here we run head-long into the issue of whether to institutionalize/DE-institutionalize the mentally ill. Progressives decided – on Society’s behalf – that the severely mentally ill ought to be at liberty to be at-large among the public. The liberty of the severely mentally-ill to be free vs. the interest of the public in being free from assault by the mentally ill. There is no clear-cut right answer to this dilemma.
    Suppose we acquiesce in the Progressives’ agenda to make peaceable citizens the “lawful prey” of the criminally insane. Very well. Especially in this case, then we reserve the ancient right to the means to an effective self-defense. Darwin will sort it out eventually.

  13. Appreciate the actual work on the subject. Don’t know that it changes the argument that much. , since whether it is part of the shooter’s motivation or not, it still turns the GFZ into a criminal’s or a madman’s (which ever the case may be) undefended private shooting preserve. As the author noted. And it still doesn’t address other types of GFZs, where the “he knew there would be no armed resistance” argument might be more valid. Nice to see someone going after actual facts to support or refute what is indeed an essentially intuitive argument.

  14. I notice in your compilation of stats that school shooting incidents have more than doubled recently. In the last four years, shooting incidents exceeded that of the 2000’s, which was a record high decade. Was. Certainly mass media has hyped and excited that hulabaloo surrounding such tragedies. In prior decades such global attention was not given to the thing. I wonder if the new soup of MSM brewed with more than just a dash of “Gun Free Zone” styled fear and a pinch of “Hyper-violent entertainment…” add some Aderol and a touch of hypersensitive education… give it a couple years for self-perceived-esteem (think: “I am the teenage alpha male!”) to rise… voila!… Another under-aged psycho is hatched.

    And the shootings are more tragic because there aren’t any CCW holders in the school to slow them down or stop them.

    I dunno. It just seems like something is VERY different from when I was in school in the 80’s. And back to my point… 37 incidents in the past 4 years vs. 34 in the previous decade. Something bad is getting worse here.

    • You raise an excellent point — are there actually more shootings in the 2010’s? Or are they just being reported wider, because they’re of more interest now? I don’t know. I do know that back when we were in school, the news consisted of a half-hour at 5:00 pm and another half-hour at 11:00. There may have been incidents happening across the country, but with only half an hour to report on them, our local newscasts were more focused on local stories of local interest.

      Now we have wall-to-wall cable news coverage, and so anything that happens anywhere in the country gets tremendous airplay. So are there more incidents? Or are we hearing about the same number of incidents, but hearing much more about them? I don’t know.

      • How would one find the all-inclusive-data for a study such as this? I doubt it is possible.

        Nor is it relevant. The only answer to the problem is just as you stated in your article: “[It’s] plainly, blatantly, obviously true — whether the good guy with the gun is the police or a CHL holder, there are basically only two reasons why school shooters stop shooting: they either shoot themselves, or are stopped by someone with a gun.”

        In my opinion, teachers should be trained and armed. That, in and of itself, is powerful deterrent.

  15. There are two types of school shootings. The individual act and the mass shooting incidents like Newtown or Columbine. I think you have mixed apples and oranges in your data. The school may have be chosen as the site for a attacking a specific individual because it was the most accessible not because it was or wasn’t gun free. Furthermore, shooting a targeted individual in a crowded location maximizes your chances of escape. That actually supports your argument. However, if you plan on going a rampage you may pick a school for both accessibility and because it’s a gun free zone. If you want to shoot the most amount of people in the limited time that is available to you, you don’t want interference.

  16. Really well done.
    I agree with your conclusions, but there is one thing question I am left with: Even though there was no “Gun Free School” law during the 80s, how likely was it that schools were gun-free anyway? (Not that it affects the ultimate conclusion.)

  17. First up, a good effort. I thank you for doing this, even as I am giving in to the temptation to poke. Please look at these as ideas for follow-up articles. I know you need to get things out the door, I would love to see a bit of a series exploring some of the tangent ideas you bring up.

    I recommend using the FBI database on Uniform Crime Reporting (instead of Wiki):
    They even helpfully have a report: “Crime in Schools and Colleges: A Study of Offenders and Arrestees Reported via National Incident-Based Reporting System Data” That will be more authoritative.

    Next, you are playing way loose and fast with correlation/causation. I know you are loading up the warnings, but then you ignore your own warnings in your conclusions. I know you have to come up with a conclusion in order for the article to make sense. But given the scarcity of the data and the lack of data about intent regarding choice, I recommend a reporting of negative results with a litany of follow on article ideas.

    There are several significant detractors to your conclusions. The first is that Gun Free Schools began as state by state restrictions in the 70s, so your baseline is troublesome. See Next is that new laws take time to have thier impact known, so 10-20 years is likely too short to truly see impacts. I realize I am talking out both sides here, but either could be true and throwing the results.

    Lastly, you ignore the fact that the law was found unconstitutional in 1995, suspending implementation and causing Congress to try again in 1996.

    So, I like what you have done and I encourage you to think about some follow on articles in the same vein.

  18. GFZ’s are welcome mats for psychos. Follow me here…

    Psychotic persons who make the leap to killing innocents want certain things.
    -Hurt as many people as possible
    -Ensure people “remember what they did”
    -Ensure the balance of power remains with them during the act
    -Ensure the end is in their control

    I’m going to focus here on the last two. A mass shooter wants to make sure those he wished to kill are helpless and a GFZ almost gurantees that. He doesn’t need much time. Less than 5 minutes will do. A GFZ gurantees no resistance until the police show up.

    A mass shooter usually has planned suicide as the end game, but suicide means a delicate timeline. Suicide demands that the mass shooter has enough control to end it on his terms. They want to do maximum damage until the point that adequate resistance begins to manifest itself. Many of these mass shooters have enough firepower to make it extremely difficult for cops showing up and following active shooter protocol. Cops in ones and two’s showing up can’t tactically overwhelm a determined mass shooter with time to pick an advantageous hard point to defend. These mass shooters may be crazy, but don’t mistake them for being stupid. Time and time again however, as soon as the smallest amount of armed resistance shows up they commit suicide. Their timeline shortens with the intruduction of resistance and to retain the power through the act they commit suicide as soon as resistance is encountered.

    The only thing a GFZ gurantees is that the only armed resistance will come externally, in about 3-7 minutes. When armed resistance can be introduced sooner the timeline will shrink. Even if the mass shooter is not struck by incoming rounds from a teacher or principal the balance of power will shift and the shooter will decide to end his life sooner, thereby saving lives.

  19. Well your first problem is using Wikipedia as a resource! What a total waste of time!!!

  20. I like the article. It shows how tough it is to draw causal links between gun laws and crimes. There is little, if any, evidence of causal connections between gun laws and crime. Drawing conclusions is inherently speculative because of the number of variables involved that can’t be controlled. This is true for pro-gun and anti-gun arguments.

    To nitpick, this quote — “That doesn’t change the validity of the whole argument of “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” That’s plainly, blatantly, obviously true — whether the good guy with the gun is the police or a CHL holder, there are basically only two reasons why school shooters stop shooting: they either shoot themselves, or are stopped by someone with a gun.” — contradicts itself. If there is an ONLY thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, there can’t be two basic reasons why school shooters stop shooting. The contradiction helps illustrate the larger point. Gun crimes involve so many variables it’s nearly impossible to say what causes any of them on a macro scale.

    Here’s something to speculate about: Are mass shootings taking over from serial killings as the M.O. du jour for homicidal maniacs in the U.S.?

    • No. Completely different motivations between serial killers and spree killers. Serial killers are motivated by sexual validation/vindication/expression or financial gain versus blaze of glory demonstration to the world of a spree killer.

      With the outlier being the beltway snipers, they didn’t fit into either category.

  21. The question you should be asking is: “Would schools be attacked if the attacks were certain to fail?”

    I think the answer is obvious.

    • I don’t think the answer is obvious. Mostly because I don’t know how these people define success/failure.

      If success means making headlines and going out in a blaze of glory then success could be had with or without armed good guys. Of course, here the success could be mutual–shooter gets to die in a blaze of glory and make headlines; the rest of us get to have fewer kids killed–win-win.

      Success might mean killing a specific number of kids, but I doubt that most of the shooters define it that way.

      Success might mean some fairy tale or tragic ending of all the cool kids quaking in fear, but seeing the error of their ways, and the prom queen realizing she really did love the shooter all along. Who knows?

      I agree with the overall thesis here, that ascribing a rational thought process to these people is speculative at best.

      • Really? Most of the shooters themselves have told you again and again what their definition of success is and you’re ignoring it. Read their “manifestos.” View their youtube videos. It’s all there.

        They want a body count. A body count. Every single time.

  22. I like this, and I will use it to amend something I’ve been saying.

    My new line is “The GFZ didn’t cause the attack, but it sure biased the attack towards success.”

  23. Somewhat related to a gun free zone discussion, has anyone else noticed that at Walmart where they sell signage, numbers for mail boxes, etc., you can purchase a “no guns” sign?

  24. Shooting the Bull should stick to testing ammunition.

    A connection to a given school is about as useful correlation as what color shirt they wore the fateful day they decided to execute their rampage.

    People who commit spree killings do so where they will have minimal resistance. Once meaningful resistance shows up, they very often self-terminate.

    And for those who missed it, our latest little scumbag considered likelihood of armed resistance in choosing his victim pool:

    “I saw that there were way too many cops walking around on such an event. It would be impossible to kill enough of my enemies before being dispatched by those damnable cops,” [scumbag’s name redacted] wrote in his little “journal”.


    • Disagree with your first line, he made an effort to get some data on which to base his conclusion. Other than the one anecdote you provided, what data did you use to make your conclusion?

  25. Personally I think it boils down to the fact that our schools are nonsense factories. Our kids are penned up for 8 hours a day with no order, no discipline, and no sensible moral code. On top of that, they are coddled without being challenged so that rather than learning maturity and resilience, they become sensitive to the point of fragility.

    To the question: “Why do school kids hurt each other?” I reply with the question: “Does the school give them any reason not to?”

    • And people say you shouldn’t home school because your kids won’t get “socialized”—pretty rich, huh?

  26. I am not sure that ShootingTheBull410 is asking the right question. Is the “gun-free zone” status of schools the sole determining factor for criminals who use a firearm and attack someone there? I doubt it.

    A better question to ask is if the “gun-free zone” status of schools is a major contributing factor for criminals to attack someone there. In my opinion, yes. Why? Violent criminals have at least a minimal ability to evaluate risk and modify their behavior appropriately … otherwise they would be dead or in prison. So if you are a violent criminal and want to attack someone, where would you attack them? The victim’s home would be the worst choice because many people have guns at home and can defend themselves. The victim’s car is a poor choice because they can usually speed away. That only leaves public locations such as stores or school. Schools are supposed to be “gun-free zones” so that reduces the risk to an attacker. That alone is probably enough reason for the attacker to choose the school as the location of their attack.

    Of course attackers are lazy as well. It takes a lot of time and effort to stake out a victim’s home, follow them around, and set up an attack at some unknown future location. Furthermore, the attacker has no prior knowledge of the unknown location so they cannot evaluate the risk (to them) of an attack there. Between the extra time/effort it takes to find a suitable public location and the inability to analyze risk beforehand, most attackers will just go to the school.

    • I already raised this point. You also have to realize that the shooter in a target killing is not looking for martyrdom. He wants to escape. A shooting that causes chaos in public place facilitates the getaway. Gun free or not the school is a place where this condition will be met. I think STB is asking the wrong question. A targeted murder is a different animal than a shooting spree. The spree killer has a different motive and is very likely to favor a gun free environment. STB has lumped gang hits with spree shooters. That is bad statistical analysis.

  27. Good article. We shouldn’t put stock in the idea that having a theoretically armed person on campus will actually deter a psycho. In fact, we shouldn’t even put stock in the idea that it will stop one (luck+skill calculation required).

    But I’m all for giving people a chance to defend themselves, at least.

  28. The schools I went through, from elementary to university, always had armed police roaming the campus.

  29. This is along a similar line to Ralph’s line of thinking – How many of these shooters came up to school property with their gun, immediately stopped in their tracks and thought “Holy sh!t, a Gun Free Zone?! I guess I can’t take my gun(s) in here and murder people.”

    That would be 0%.

    What percentage of mass murders – defined by 4 fatalities or more from a single incident – have occurred in public or private property in what has been declared a gun free zone?

    That would be above 90%. The shooting of Kathy Goffords was the only one I could find of roughly 64 incident since 1981 – and her shooter was tackled by a CCW holder. Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Fort Hood 1&2, DC Shipyard, etc. – all gun free zones. The Aurora shooter drove past 7 other Theatres because they allowed firearms.

    Whereas the psychos who shoot up police stations tend to get return fire pretty fast. Has anyone (who is not a cybernetic organism) ever gone into a police station and murdered 20 people in the US? How about a shooting range? A gun shop?

    At the very least, gun free zones fail to dissuade shooters. They certainly contribute to high body counts – such as in Norway. Anders Breivik murdered more than 90 people.

    Sure, school shooters often have associations with their targets. The bottom line remains the same. I’m less concerned with a murderer’s sick motive and a whole lot more concerned with how I can defend against him. And that defense is the best gun and the most ammo I can get my hands on.

    • “I’m less concerned with a murderer’s sick motive and a whole lot more concerned with how I can defend against him. And that defense is the best gun and the most ammo I can get my hands on.”

      Totally agreed. I don’t think we can ascribe rational and logical motives to people who commit these crimes. I don’t know that we can even think the way they do, and I think we lose sight of the central issues when we try to ascribe our motivations onto these people.

      But I do know that we can do more to protect ourselves and others once these events happen, and the Gun Free Zone prevents us from exercising the most practical, proven, and likely way to stop these events. And that is the real tragedy here — a law with “good intentions” that produces the real world result that law-abiding citizens are powerless to stand up against such an attack.

  30. The writer’s research provides ample evidence that gun free zones at schools don’t prevent guns from being fired at people on school property. Virginia Tech, a random inner city high school, wherever – people are getting shot at schools in ones, twos, and dozens at a time.

    So if the laws aren’t stopping people from being shot at school, why have them?

  31. Sort of a ‘chicken or the egg’ question.
    Do these shooters choose ‘gun free zones’ or do ‘gun free zones’ simply make it more likely that the shooter will be more “successful” in their evil endeavor?
    Or is the chaos that will ensue more complete and intense giving them the power rush they crave? Sure there’s chaos in a mall shooting but you’ve got more adults that supposably have a higher chance of assessing the situation and planning a course of action.

  32. Let me make this argument. Would they shoot up schools if they knew that there were armed individuals? I think that because they know no one is there to challenge them, they are more emboldened to do the attack.

  33. Regardless of the motivation for the shooter, at least one school district in Washington State is taking a wonderful proactive aggressive approach to the problem….or not…per the Seattle Times:

    “BELLINGHAM (AP) — The Bellingham school district will be installing panic buttons in its buildings to provide a direct line to law enforcement during an emergency.

    The Bellingham Herald reports the technology is being paid for by a nearly $440,000 grant from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

    Bellingham is one of 80 districts throughout the state sharing in nearly $7 million in school safety grants from the agency. The program is intended to reduce police response time for school emergencies.”

    Apparently they need a button because, you know, there are no landline or cell phones in schools.

    So the first time that they hit the button, local LEOs fear a school shooter and roll in with ARs out according to the “fast arrival fast entry” doctrine….Oy, my head…

  34. we should expand that beyond schools and include all gun free zones. that school age criminals target their schools is not surprising, as that is their world.

    So I would agree with your premise, however the problem with it is that you are trying to proof a negative, school shootings get the bodycount because there is nobody to stop them, on the other hand other shootings don’t turn into mass-shootings because they are stopped by someone with a gun(LE or not). So there is no realistic way to proof that guns on campus would make a difference, today, unless we put guns on campus for the next 30 years and then check the stats.

    As mass shootings don’t increase or decrease a lot over the last 50 years, and that they are rather small portion of the total murders, you are also lacking statistically relevant incidences or body counts. (this will always fire up the comments with: u think the ‘rents think their child was irrelevant’. duh, of course not but that doesn’t change the fact that there is not enough datapoints to predict the impact of any specific measure, be it pro or anti gun)

  35. First, let me say I love your ammo testing videos. They are excellent in every way and I look forward to more of them. Having said that, I have the following issues with this post:

    1. The questions implied by your thesis are incongruent with the headline. A welcome mat connotes the idea that a place is more welcoming to a person or group of people than would be the case normally. Surely a gunbuster sign must be welcoming to those who wish not to encounter armed civilians. Your thesis seems to be that criminals do not intentionally pick gun free zones with which they are not familiar, choosing instead to target locations that have personal meaning to them. The concept of targeting a familiar location over an unfamiliar location has nothing to do with the concept of a GFZ being a “welcome mat”, the question is one of familiarity as you have examined it, not one of the relative welcome posed by GFZs versus non-GFZs.

    2. I think the three questions you ask at the outset of the article are the wrong questions to ask from a policy perspective. I respectfully submit that the right questions are:

    A. Once a person has made up his mind to kill, is he more likely to choose a GFZ in which to act?
    B. Do GFZs clend themselves to situations in which people are more likely to die once a spree killer has begun to act?

    3. If your thesis is indeed that people tend to kill in places with which they are familiar rather than in random places, then this post serves no useful purpose given the utter obviousness of the fact that people are generally purposeful beings who tend to act in purposeful ways rather than randomly. Of course a person would be more likely to kill familiar people in familiar places than they would be to kill random people in random places. This is not revelatory, you have made no statment which contradicts common insight or the general beliefs of the average person as I see them. I have not encountered anyone who would argue that people randomly target GFZs. People SPECIFICALLY target GFZs. The argument which I encounter often, and give credence to, is the one that posits that a person is more likely to launch a successful attack in a GFZ than in a place where civilians can go armed.

    4. The convoluted logic apparent in this post is likely to be twisted by an anti in a way that does us harm.

    In conclusion, you really are terrific in every Youtube video I have ever seen you in, and I generally think the world of you, but this post is full of fail in my opinion. My apologies if I have misunderstood you in any significant way here.

  36. Simply put schools are a target because there is a high concentration of defenseless people in a limited access/exit environment. Its a shooting gallery paradise. Couple that with the killing of innocents brings more notoriety than killing a bunch of gang bangers, The psychos want to be remembered.

  37. Does the status of “Gun-Free Zone” increase the likelihood of a person attempting to shoot another within in the Zone? It is likely rarely a motivating factor for murderers and other assailants. But it does increase the number of casualties in a mass shooting, and decreases the likelihood of the assailant being stopped before he kills his intended victim(s). It increases the chance of success for the would-be murderer. Thus, it decreases the safety of people within the “Gun-Free Zone”.

  38. There’s an old saying that the only reasons people murder are love, money, or revenge. There’s a whole lot of truth in that old saying.

    Shootingthebull410’s data shows school shootings mostly tend to happen because the shooter has a connection to the people there, the place, or both. The data does not tend to show shootings happen there because there aren’t many people with guns in schools.

    I have never seen any evidence that mass shooters specifically target gun-free zones. Mass shooters certainly aren’t concerned for their own safety because they generally shoot themselves or allow themselves to be shot.Of the 25 deadliest U.S. mass shootings, eight took place in likely gun-free zones. Assuming mass shooters target gun-free zones because they’ll get to kill more people is speculation. It’s basically supporting an argument by making up your own facts. Assuming places are gun-free zones or monkeying with the definition of a gun-free zone is also making up your own facts.

    Pro-gun folks are just about as quick to abandon critical thinking as anti-gun folks. Both camps frequently conflate speculation, theories, and opinions with facts. The notion that the majority of mass shooters specifically target gun-free zones does not hold up to critical examination. It’s a speculative theory, yet many pro-gun folks hold it out as fact because it supports their position. This is not critical or logical thinking.

  39. Secret Service did a Safe Schools Initiative study and found that most attacks at schools are more bullying related than anything else.

    Teach your kids the golden rule. Make sure they live it.

  40. From page 110 of Elliot Rodger’s manifesto:

    I considered setting the date for the Day of Retribution to be the next Halloween of 2013. That would give me a year to prepare, but I soon dismissed it. If the Day of Retribution were to happen, it would have to be on a normal weekend. There would be too many cops walking around during an event like Halloween, and cops are the only ones who could hinder my plans.

    There it is straight from the writings of a murderer! The area was pretty much a “gun free” zone so he only had to plan when the least number of police would be expected there. Had the potential for practically any adult to be armed been the norm then I doubt he would’ve picked that place and time. Indeed, on the day of his crimes the potential to stop him early would’ve been high if it were not for gun control.

    “Gun free” zones are immoral and constitutionally unacceptable. Individuals are responsible for their own safety. At the end of the day, it is an individual duty. It always was and forever will be. To force everyday individuals to be disarmed or face legal ramifications, often serious ones, is unacceptable in society. “Gun free” zones don’t work and it’s well past time to get rid of them.

    • I posted the above comment with the wrong article and the system wouldn’t allow an edit due to a glitch. However, the idea is still the same so it fits here also.

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