Democrats' Focus On 'Gun Control' Won't Solve Any of Our Problems | Opinion

Another horrible tragedy occurred on Tuesday with the attack on the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. With 19 elementary school students slain, President Joe Biden was right when he said Tuesday night that Americans have had enough. Unfortunately, his proposals won't solve the problem.

Just as with so many of these attackers, the man who attacked Robb Elementary School picked a place where people were banned from carrying concealed handguns. For example, the perpetrator of the Buffalo shooting from a couple of weeks ago wrote in his manifesto: "Areas where" carrying with a concealed weapon "are outlawed or prohibited may be good areas of attack."

Teachers and staff can carry concealed handguns in about 30% of Texas school districts, so we don't need to guess how the policy would work. Nineteen other states also allow concealed carry in schools. Since the year 2000, there has yet to be a single case of someone being wounded or killed from a shooting, let alone a mass public shooting, between 6:00 AM and midnight at a school that lets teachers carry guns.

People fear teachers irresponsibly using guns or students obtaining a teacher's gun. But none of that has happened. There has been only one accidental discharge by a teacher in recent years, and that was outside of school hours.

While there have not been any problems with armed teachers, the number of people killed at schools without concealed carry has increased significantly over the course of the last decade.

Biden's speech Tuesday night contained one misleading or false statement after another. Instead of trying to bring the country together, it politicized the attack. When mentioning the Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe and Oxford school shootings, Biden claimed that there were 900 instances of gunfire at schools over the last 10 years. But someone committing suicide in a car parking lot at 2:00 AM, two gangs fighting over drug turf in a parking lot after school hours and an accidental discharge in a firearms training class are not remotely similar to the sort of shooting that happened on Tuesday. Even including lone suicides, accidental discharges (including those by police) and gang fights, the number—as compiled by my organization, the Crime Prevention Research Center, is about half of what Biden claims it is: 470.

Since 1998, there have been a total of nine attacks similar to the Robb Elementary School shooting. Nine is nine too many. But once you adjust for population, there are many other countries, from Germany to Russia to Finland, that have comparable rates of school shootings.

Biden says that we need common-sense gun laws, but what he proposes simply will not help. He doesn't seem to realize that over 92% of violent crime in America has nothing to do with guns. Focusing on so-called "assault weapons" is not only not going to stop mass public shootings, but it won't make a difference in reducing murders at large.

Only a small share of murders are committed with rifles, let alone "assault rifles," and that share has grown even smaller over time. The percentage of firearm murders committed with rifles was 4.8% prior to the federal "assault weapons" ban that took effect in September 1994. When the ban was in effect, from 1995 to 2004, the figure stood at just 4.9%. And since 2004, it's been even lower. Based on these numbers, it's hard to argue that the ban did anything at all.

Nor do most mass public shootings involve "assault weapons." Fifty-five percent involve only handguns, and only 11 percent solely involve rifles of any variety.

"When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled," Biden claimed. In fact, there was no drop in the number of attacks with "assault weapons," and virtually no change in total mass shootings, during the 1994-2004 ban.

Flowers are placed on a makeshift memorial
Flowers are placed on a makeshift memorial in front of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25, 2022. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Biden asked Americans why people need "assault weapons" to hunt deer. But, in reality, many so-called "assault weapons" are nothing more than small-game hunting rifles. The AR-15 platform has just been made to cosmetically resemble a military-grade weapon.

And the goal of semiautomatic guns, of course, is not merely to help hunters. Semiautomatic weapons, which automatically reload the subsequent round into the firing chamber after a single discharge, also protect people and save lives. Single-shot rifles that require manual reloading after each shot may not do someone a whole lot of good, especially if he is facing multiple criminals. That person's first shot may very well miss, or otherwise fail to stop an attacker.

The Uvalde tragedy will inevitably lead to a push for so-call "red flag" laws, or extreme risk protection orders. You would never know this from the media coverage, but the federal government and every state already have laws on the books that deal with people who are a danger to themselves or to others. These laws are commonly known as "Baker Act" statutes, though they go by different names in different states. They typically allow police, doctors and family members to have someone held for a mental health examination based upon a simple reasonableness test—effectively amounting to an educated guess.

These laws focus on mental illness, and they require that mental health care experts evaluate the individual. If a person can't afford a lawyer, a public defender is provided. While judges can choose to involuntarily commit individuals who they believe are dangers to themselves or to others, there is a broad range of other, less extreme options that involve monitoring or mandatory mental care.

But 17 states have nonetheless now adopted "red flag" laws. Thirteen states have adopted them since 2018, after the infamous Parkland, Florida high school shooting. While "red flag" laws are discussed as mental health measures and are often promoted to prevent suicide, only one state's "red flag" law even explicitly mentions mental illness. And none of the states specifically require that a mental health expert be involved in evaluating the person; the only option given to judges is to take away a person's guns.

When faced with legal bills that can easily amount to $10,000 for a hearing, few people find that it makes sense to fight "red flag" laws just to keep their guns. Judges will thus initially confiscate a person's guns on the basis of a written complaint and "reasonable suspicion." When hearings take place weeks later, courts overturn a third of the initial orders. But since few defendants have legal representation, the actual error rate is undoubtedly much higher.

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. 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, though, 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 own research with Professor Carl Moody at William & Mary actually finds that these laws slightly increase suicide rates.

It is well past time that we address these mass public shootings. But 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 and the author most recently of Gun Control Myths. Until January 2021, Lott was the senior adviser for research and statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.