“After a shooting spree,” author William Burroughs once said, “they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it.” Burroughs continued: “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.”
Plenty of people — especially among America’s political and journalistic classes — feel differently. They’d be much more comfortable seeing ordinary Americans disarmed. And whenever there is a mass shooting, or other gun incident that snags the headlines, they do their best to exploit the tragedy and push for laws that would, well, take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it.
There are a lot of problems with this approach, but one of the most significant is this one: It doesn’t work. One of the interesting characteristics of mass shootings is that they generally occur in places where firearms are banned: malls, schools, etc. That was the finding of a famous 1999 study by John Lott of the University of Maryland and William Landes of the University of Chicago, and it appears to have been borne out by experience since then as well.
In a way, this is no surprise. If there’s someone present with a gun when a mass shooting begins, the shooter is likely to be shot himself. And, in fact, many mass shootings — from the high school shooting by Luke Woodham in Pearl, Miss., to the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo., where an armed volunteer shot the attacker — have been terminated when someone retrieved a gun from a car or elsewhere and confronted the shooter.