Criminologist John Lott, Jr: The Problem Is Not Guns But Gun-Free Zones

“When you look at all the mass public shootings since 1950, with just 3 exceptions, all those mass public shootings have taken place where victims aren’t able to go and defend themselves.” 

Criminologist and economist John Lott, Jr., author of "More Guns, Less Crime" joined Dan & Amy to discuss the guns, gun-free zones, and the proposed measures that failed to pass the U.S. Senate on Monday.

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Dan Proft: Dan and Amy, coming up we’re going to have Dr. John Lott Jr. on the show, expert on guns and 2nd Amendment and many other things; noted economist. But before that, briefly, I would just want to reference an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal today by Bill McGurn, entitled “Guns, Democrats and Terror”, and references a New York model that could be scaled. Why doesn’t the left want to scale what New York did to reduce gun violence and to chill terrorist activity, frankly prevent it? During the time of Bloomberg and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, no terrorists attacks there after 9/11. McGurn writes about what they did. Amy Jacobson: What did they do differently? Dan Proft: Well, Mr. Kelly, Ray Kelly, the commissioner there, has begun a second stint at New York’s Top Cop on January 1st 2002. So New York’s still cluttering debris from the Twin Towers and his charge was not just to deal with gang crime and street violence, but to prevent another terrorist attack. Amy Jacobson: Right. Dan Proft: Over the next 12 years he did just that. “Mr. Kelly”, writes McGurn, “Pulled off what President Obama and Hillary Clinton now claim are their post-Orlando priorities—assault on gun violence, and “smarter” policies to identify terrorists before they strike. Here’s the rub. The secret to New York’s success wasn’t just Mr. Kelly. It was also Bloomberg. He was a liberal rarity”, writes McGurn, “And a pol who would not throw his cops under the bus when successful policies produced politically inconvenient results.” So one of the things Kelly did? Expand stop-and-frisk. “Gun control for bad guys is a better way to think about it”, writes McGurn. I like that characterization. “Cops would be proactive. When they spotted someone behaving suspiciously, he would be stopped, questioned and sometimes frisked. Often police found an illegal weapon. The gun control was not limited to the thousands of guns taken off the streets this way. Because the bad guys knew they might be frisked, they started leaving their guns at home. New York became America’s safest big city”. Compare that to Chicago, where Chicago has more murders, gross numbers, than New York, despite being a third the size, population-wise. Amy Jacobson: I mean, think about it, 12 people were shot over the weekend. 12 people killed, 41 shots, just in the weekend. Dan Proft: “How was this success greeted in New York?” Like you would expect from the left. “The cops were denounced as racists, because the stops of black men were disproportionate to the percentage of the general population”, and of course, Bill de Blasio banned “racial profiling” and promised he would do so when he ran for mayor. You know, Sandinista there, in his letter Kudlow calls him Bill de Blasio. So stop-and-frisk worked, and of course the left denounced it. Also this: Ray Kelly set up a demographics unit. “The AP would win a Pulitzer for a sensationalist series of stories falsely implying it was about blanket spying on Muslims. In fact”, writes McGurn, “the unit was about getting smart - learning where, for example, terrorists such as the Tsarnaev brothers might look for shelter had they made it to New York (as they’d planned) after bombing the Boston marathon bombing. 2007 NYPD report called “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat”? Here’s a sentence from the first paragraph of the executive summary: “Rather than being directed from al-Qaeda abroad, these plots have been conceptualized and planned by ‘unremarkable’ local residents/citizens who sought to attack their country of residence, utilizing al-Qaeda as their inspiration and ideological reference point.” All you have to do is substitute ISIS for al-Qaeda and you’ve got Orlando. That’s exactly what happened in Orlando. And McGurn writes, “So how did the left react to this demographics unit? Smarter policies? The de Blasio administration in New York pulled the report from the NYPD website as part of a settlement with Muslim groups who had sued“. No terror tack, safest big city in America, stop-and-frisk demographics unit, why are all those left senators accusing republicans of selling weapons to ISIS? Why don’t they want to scale what happened in America’s biggest city, liberal big city? For more on that and maybe perspective on the McGurn piece, we’re now happy to be joined by the aforesaid Dr. John Lott Jr. His next book, “The War on Guns” comes out August 1st. Dr. John Lott, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it. John Lott Jr.: Thanks for having me on. Dan Proft: What about that McGurn piece and the model in New York City? Is that something that you agree could and should be scaled? John Lott Jr.: Yeah, I mean, I’ve no problem with stop-and-frisk to try to stop the people who is illegal for them to carry guns. You make it difficult for them to do that. I suppose that the one thing I would do is I would also make it easier for law-abiding people who want to be able to protect themselves, to be able to go and do so with guns, but you know, I’ve no problem at all with that being part of the equation. Amy Jacobson: But don’t you think the people who have a problem are Muslims who thought that they were being racially profiled? John Lott Jr.: Right, I think the problem is that they would go to those neighborhoods where the crime rates were highest. And so you’ll be more likely to have crimes in, let’s say, more heavily Black neighborhoods. And so you just would end up picking up more Blacks in those areas that you’d be stop-and-frisk, simply because you put the police in the areas where the crime rates are. Dan Proft: I’ve a friend in the Chicago Police Department, he was in Inglewood on Chicago’s south side. He said, “It’s 99% African-America. If I stopped a White guy who was in Inglewood just because he was in Inglewood, then I would be accused of racially profiling a White guy because he doesn’t belong in Inglewood”. I mean, this is the silliness you get into when you obsess about racial profiling rather than allowing cops to just do their jobs with respect to people that are behaving suspiciously. Behavior, not race. John Lott Jr.: Right, I guess the way I would view it is, who are they committing crimes against in these heavily Black neighborhoods, it’s going to be other Blacks. And so, the questions becomes who do we care about trying to save? Is that the motivation? You go to where the crime is and you want to try to stop those victims in those heavily crimed from becoming victims, and it so just happens that you may end up stopping people that are disproportionally minority in those places, but at the same time, those people whose lives you are saving are going to be disproportionate with minority. Dan Proft: Four measures on guns taken up by the Senate yesterday, four measures go down yesterday. Would any of what was proposed by democrats or republicans done anything to enhance our safety? John Lott Jr.: No, and the amazing thing is that none of those rules would have stopped Orlando, none of those rules would have stopped a single mass public shooting during the entire Obama administration, nor would they have done over at least the last couple of decades. And I think the media are finally asking those types of questions. It’s been bizarre, after each of the mass public shootings, President Obama has pushed for these so called expanded background checks. Background checks on private transfer of guns, and yet that hasn’t been applicable to any of these attacks, and we’ve even had attacks in states that already have these types of laws. You look at Europe, a lot of Europe already has these types of laws, and they actually a death rate from mass public shootings in the European Union that’s virtually the same as what we’ve had in the United States during the Obama administration. Amy Jacobson: Donald Trump on Saturday when he was in front of a crowd in Phoenix said that the key with the Orlando shootings, if people were armed at that nightclub. He since retracted that and said, “No, I meant that they needed to have employees or more security that were armed”. But what do you think of his initial statement, about people being armed at nightclubs? John Lott Jr.: I guess I agreed with that statement a lot. Look, if you have guards at places, or let’s say even police guarding a place, that’s an incredibly difficult job that they have, to go and have people in uniform or people that stand out as being guards in these places when you’re talking about terrorist type attacks. Terrorists have huge strategic advantage. If they arrive on the scene and you have a guard there, who’s the first person that they’re going to kill? Charlie Hebdo, last year, the first person killed was the guard outside the building. When the French president put 10,000 troops on the street after Charlie Hebdo… you have two problems: one is, if they do attack a place, that will be the first person killed; they’ve a very dangerous job in terms of stopping those attacks, and the second thing is there are so many possible targets; you go and put some police in front of different areas, then they just simply choose another target. Whether it was 10,000 or even 100,000 troops, there’s no way you’re going to target all the possible targets in a city like Paris, with 2.3 million people. And I guess I just don’t understand why people don’t understand that point about all the possible targets that are there. This killer in Orlando, he obviously had frequented that establishment a lot; he knew where the guard was there in the place, and being a guard in a place like that is very difficult for another reason, that is it’s simply impossible to be on your toes day after day, month after month there, from somebody or an attack that can come from virtually any direction. And so I wish people would finally start talking about these gun-free zones. I know Trump did initially, but the concern that people raise for example, “It’s in a place that serves alcohol”. 40 states in the United States allow people to carry permanent concealed handguns into places that serve alcohol. All the states allow it in restaurants that serve alcohol, and I guess the question I would just ask people is, in all those places, name me one single example of the types of concerns that people have raised that have actually happened. Illinois hasn’t had its concealed handgun law that long, but you know, Indiana and Ohio and Iowa and all sorts of other places that have allowed people to carry in bars have had those rules for decades. And you can’t point to one single example of a permit holder getting drunk, pulling out his concealed handgun and shooting others. Some states essentially say you can’t drink if you go into those places. You’re kind of like the designated driver. Others make it a crime if you carry a gun to actually get drunk. But the point is, permit holders tend to be incredibly law abiding. So much of this debate is about what possibly might go on. Well, we don’t need to guess in this case, because we have a huge experience in the rest of the country in terms of “see what happens”. You go and you ban guns in these places, I’ll just give you a simple example: just a couple of months ago in Detroit, there was a father that was concerned about his son’s involvement in ISIS. Had contacted the FBI, the FBI had put a wire tap on the son’s phone, and they have an amazing conversation tape where he was explaining how he had picked one of the largest churches in the Detroit area to go an attack. And there are two reasons why he gave: one, he had checked it out, had a huge church attendance there on Sunday, so there’d be a lot of potential victims, and the second thing is he had checked out, it was the one church in the area that had banned people from being able to carry permanent concealed handguns on church property. And so, he said that here you have a large number of people that are defenseless, and it would be relatively easy for him to go and kill. He’s explicitly talking about these things on the tape. But it’s just not that. You have other cases, like the Charleston Church Shooting last year, where his original target was supposed to be Charleston College, until he investigated and realized that the armed security they had there he worried would stop him before he would be able to go and start killing other people. You have the diary that was released last year for the Batman Movie Theater shooter; his first target was going to be Denver International Airport. And he also had staked out the movie theaters in his area. Of the 7 movie theaters within the 20 minute drive of his apartment, only one posted signs banning permanent concealed handguns. That’s the one he went to. Or the Lafayette movie theater shooting last year; he went to the one movie theater in the area that banned permanent concealed handguns. Or the year before, you have cases like the Santa Barbara Shooter, or the New Brunswick Shooter in Canada, where you have explicit discussions about trying to avoid those areas where people with guns might be able to go and stop them. I can go on for an hour on this thing, but the point is at some point we have to talk about the fact that these killers consciously avoid areas where people with guns might be able to stop them, and it’s not a surprise. When you look at all the mass public shootings since 1950, with just 3 exceptions, all those mass public shootings have taken place where victims aren’t able to go and defend themselves, where it’s illegal for general citizens to have guns. Dan Proft: Alright. I’m sorry to interrupt. You make a strong case, as always, very good examples. Dr. John Lott Jr., criminologist, economist, forthcoming book, “The War on Guns” that’s coming August 1st. John Lott, thanks so much for joining us, appreciate it. John Lott Jr.: Thank you!