Senators are billing the new Senate gun control legislation as a bipartisan breakthrough that will make Americans safer. “Our legislation will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights,” claim Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. But the bill will do nothing to prevent the mass public shootings, which the senators claim motivated their action, and will likely increase suicides. It is a mess.
The Republican senators caved in the negotiations. Take red flag laws. Republicans such as Cornyn promised to oppose federal funding of state red flag laws “unless their red flag law contains a full set of due process and Bill of Rights protections in the Constitution.” But the Senate bill only requires a hearing in which you have the right to know the opposing evidence and can confront adverse witnesses after your guns are already taken away.
These laws are virtually always used to prevent suicide. Yet when people pose a clear danger to themselves or to others, they should be confined to a mental health facility. If someone is really suicidal, simply taking away his gun won’t solve the problem anyway. There are too many ways for people to kill themselves.
If anything, “red flag” laws harm people who need genuine help. Absent such laws, a person contemplating suicide might speak to a friend or family member and be dissuaded from that tragic course of action. With these laws in place, individuals may fear that confiding in someone will result in a report to the authorities, possibly leading to the loss of their ability to defend themselves or their loved ones. Indeed, my research with Professor Carl Moody at the College of William and Mary found these laws slightly increase suicide rates.
More funding for mental health is fine, but don’t expect it to stop mass public shootings. Over half of those committing mass public shootings in the last 25 years saw mental health care professionals before their attack. Yet in not one single case were these mental health professionals able to identify these murderers as a danger to themselves or others.
For example, the Buffalo mass murderer underwent a mental health evaluation last year after threatening to shoot up a school and then kill himself, but he was released when he told the mental health professionals he was merely joking. So unless someone is stupid and says he is serious about committing a threatened crime, it is possible to evade detection by mental health professionals.
So what do you do if you can’t identify who these mass murderers are in advance? Completely ignored in the bill is any discussion of gun-free zones. While 30 percent of the schools in Texas have armed teachers and staff, the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas banned guns. The Tulsa, Oklahoma hospital shooting was another gun-free zone. The Buffalo shooting wrote in his manifesto: “Areas where” carrying with a concealed weapon “are outlawed or prohibited may be good areas of attack.”
Nor are those cases unique. Ninety-six percent of all the mass public shootings occur in places where guns are banned. These murderers might be crazy, but they aren’t stupid. They know that the more people they kill, the more media attention they can get, and if they go to a place where people can’t defend themselves, they can kill more people.
Some people mistakenly think that if you ban guns from areas, you make them safer. But gun-free zones serve as magnets for attacks. The murderers depend on the victims being defenseless.
The National Rifle Association has “a membership and a business model that will not allow them to support any legislation,” Cornyn claimed. “And so I understand where they’re coming from, but I think most people will not allow any outside group to veto good public policy.”
It is well past time that we address these mass public shootings. But, unfortunately, too many Republicans are more concerned about “doing something” than fighting to do something that makes things better. Let’s come up with proposals that matter, starting with eliminating “gun-free zones.”John R. Lott, Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.