Wolf should reconsider veto of school gun bill

American Revolution Museum
Gov. Wolf during last weeks opening ceremonies for the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

Gov. Wolf wants to protect schools from mass public shootings by hiring “trained security professionals like school resource or police officers.” But a bill passed last week by the Senate Education Committee would allow school boards to let staff carry on school property as long as they have a concealed handgun permit and have gone through police-related firearms training. Wolf has already promised to veto the bill.

The governor should reconsider. Letting teachers and staff carry concealed handguns is nothing new in the United States, and there has been good reason for allowing it. Police virtually always arrive after an attack has occurred. Police are very important to fighting crime, but stopping mass public shootings is a uniquely difficult challenge.

For police and security guards, wearing a uniform is often akin to wearing a neon sign saying “Shoot me first,” making them easy targets for attackers. The benefit of concealed carry is that the attackers won’t know who is a threat to them. In addition, putting police in schools is also incredibly costly, much more so than staff and volunteers who are already working at the schools.

The fear of ending “gun-free zones” is misplaced. Prior to the early 1990s, states that allowed concealed carry didn’t have any special restrictions concerning carrying on K-12 property. And there weren’t any problems.

Twenty-four states now allow teachers and staff to carry, though the rules vary across states. Alabama, Utah, New Hampshire, and parts of Oregon leave it up to the teachers and staff to carry. The rules in other states are more similar to the Pennsylvania Senate bill and require the approval of the superintendent or the school board, For example, in neighboring Ohio, at least 40 school districts allow teachers to carry.

A common fear has been that someone will take the gun away from a teacher and use it improperly. But this has never happened. And excluding a few cases of accidental discharges when school grounds have been used for off-hours firearms training, there has only been one accidental discharge involving a permit holder on K-12 property. This happened in Utah and resulted in a minor injury.

“From what I’ve seen in Utah, [school insurance] rates have not gone up because of guns being allowed,” says Curt Oda, past president of the Utah Independent Insurance Agents Association of Utah. A survey of school districts in other states that have allowed teachers and staff to carry has also found no evidence of increased insurance costs.

Others are concerned that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders or themselves be shot if police respond to the scene and mistake them for the attackers.

In fact, permit holders have stopped dozens of would-be mass public shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities, and downtowns. In none of these cases has a permit holder ever shot a bystander. Nor have police ever accidentally shot a permit holder.

And to address fears of permit holders not being qualified to use a firearm, the Pennsylvania bill requires substantially more training than in most of these other states.

Since at least 1950, all but four public mass shootings in America have taken place where citizens are banned from carrying guns. In Europe, every mass public shooting in history has occurred in a gun-free zone. And Europe is no stranger to mass public shootings, having been host to three of the four worst K-12 school shootings. In the past eight years, it has suffered a per-capita casualty rate 50 percent higher than that of the United States.

Unsurprisingly, killers try to avoid armed resistance. For example, last year, a young Islamic State sympathizer planned to shoot up one of the largest churches in Detroit. In a wiretap, the FBI recorded the young man’s explanation for why he picked the church: “It’s easy, and a lot of people go there. Plus, people are not allowed to carry guns in church. Plus, it would make the news.”

These killers might be crazy, but they aren’t stupid. They want to kill as many people as possible. Killers consistently pick defenseless targets where they know that no one will have a gun. Just look at the 2015 Charleston, S.C., church shooting, the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., and the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, Calif.

Gun-free zones are magnets for murderers. Even the most ardent gun-control advocates would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their homes. Let’s stop putting them elsewhere.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center (http://crimeresearch.org) and the author of “The War on Guns.”  johnrlott@crimeresearch.org