Expanding gun rights won’t save us from more mass shootings | Opinion
- By Thomas Gabor, Tampa Bay Times (re-printed)
As Florida experiences its second public mass shooting since last June — this time at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport — state legislators have introduced bills that would substantially expand the rights of gun owners. The most comprehensive bill (SB 140) has been filed by Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota). His bill would allow concealed weapon license holders to carry handguns, openly if desired, into colleges and universities, public schools, airport terminals, government meetings, and career centers.
Following the airport shooting, Steube doubled down on his view that license holders ought to bring guns into venues like airports, claiming that gun-free zones are more likely to be targeted by shooters. In fact, most major airports are not gun-free zones, as they have armed and unarmed security personnel. In addition, several studies show the vast majority of mass shootings do not occur in gun-free zones. In his book, “Rampage Nation,” Louis Klarevas of the University of Massachusetts found that 93 of 111 mass shootings from 1966 to 2015 occurred in zones in which guns were not prohibited.
Steube also ignores growing evidence that expanding the right to carry will compromise, rather than enhance, public safety. Stanford University researchers have found that right-to-carry laws “are associated with substantially higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery, and murder.” An FBI study of active shooter incidents found that just 1 of 160 incidents was stopped by an armed civilian. Furthermore, numerous law enforcement experts have expressed the view that having multiple armed individuals at an active-shooter situation may create confusion for police, impede their response, and lead to catastrophic, friendly-fire shootings by officers and civilians.
An incident in 2012 illustrates the collateral damage that may occur when fully trained officers engage an armed suspect. In that incident, police exchanged gunfire with a shooter outside the Empire State Building in New York City. While the shooter was killed, nine bystanders were wounded from bullets discharged by the officers or by ricocheting debris.
The risks faced by officers and bystanders in an active shooter situation in confined and congested spaces, like airport terminals, is substantial even with the most professional law enforcement personnel. The idea that armed civilians can effectively engage shooters with the training received in Florida is preposterous.
Permit holders in Florida typically take a one-time, 3-hour course with no written test regarding the state’s gun laws and the appropriate use of lethal force. Nor are there performance-based tests of marksmanship or the handling of firearms. There is no training as to judgment (i.e., making critical shoot/don’t shoot decisions). Joseph Vince, a leading national firearms and law enforcement expert, recommends that license holders be required to undergo recertification every 6 months, with training that would involve decision-making during real-life scenarios, shooting accuracy in stressful situations, and firing range practice. Florida requires none of these elements to qualify for a permit to carry a gun.
In fact, a significant amount of crime has been attributed to Florida’s permit holders. An analysis by the Sun Sentinel found that in the first half of 2006, 216 concealed carry weapon holders had active arrest warrants, 128 individuals had domestic violence restraining orders against them, and 1,400 people pleaded guilty or no contest to felony charges. Licensees included individuals convicted of manslaughter, aggravated assault, burglary and sex crimes.
Expanding gun rights in the manner proposed by Sen. Steube is highly questionable even with the best screening and training of civilians. Under the current system in Florida, implementing his proposals is not likely to thwart many shooters and may well have catastrophic consequences.
Thomas Gabor is a criminologist based in Palm Beach County and is author of “Confronting Gun Violence in America.”
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