The False Hope Of Gun-Free Zones

By Massad Ayoob


In a classic case of unintended consequences, supposedly “safe” gun-free zones become slaughter pens for the helpless innocent — at the hands of human monsters.


History and common sense show NRA’s Wayne LaPierre was absolutely correct when he said, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

On September 27, 2014, I was asked to address the Gun Rights Policy Conference in Chicago on the subject of gun-free zones. I’ll say here what I said there: Gun-free zones have become hunting preserves for psychopathic murderers.

This was the unintended consequence of a well-intended idea, but outlawing gun possession among the law-abiding in hopes of thwarting lawbreakers was so clearly hopeless it should have been seen sooner. Lawbreakers, by their very definition, break the law — they’ve literally made it their job description. Only the most childish naiveté could lead an honest person to believe someone who would break the most stringent laws somehow wouldn’t break a much less important one with a much less serious penalty.

On December 16, 2012, John Fund wrote an article titled, “The Facts About Mass Shootings” in National Review Online. Fund said, “Gun-free zones have been the most popular response to previous mass killings. But many law enforcement officials say they’re actually counterproductive. ‘Guns are already banned in schools. This is why shootings happen in schools. A school is a helpless-victim zone,’ says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff.

“‘Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,’ Jim Kouri, the public information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting.”

Fund continues, “Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found a common theme of mass shootings is they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools. I spoke with Lott after the Newtown shooting, and he confirmed nothing has changed to alter his findings.”

In Their Own Words And Actions

How do we know the murderers think like this? Sometimes, they admit it. On August 10, 1999, Buford Furrow — a member of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations — walked into the North Valley Jewish Community Center in the Grenada Hills section of Los Angeles. He fired 70-some shots and fled, wounding a teenage female volunteer, an adult worker at the daycare center and three 5- and 6-year-old children. A few miles away, Furrow paused in his flight to murder an unarmed postal worker of Filipino descent. After his later surrender, he stated his motive in shooting up the daycare center was his hatred of Jewish people; he killed the postal worker because he was a man of color and an employee of the Federal government.

A particularly telling point was found in his confession. According to the Wikipedia entry on this atrocity, “Furrow considered attacking three Jewish institutions: the Skirball Cultural Center, American Jewish University and Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, but security measures presented too much of a problem.”

Sometimes, it’s too obvious to connect the coincidence. On July 20, 2012, James Holmes opened fire in the Cinemark Century Theater in Aurora, Colo., during a late-night preview of the then-new Batman movie. He killed 12 and wounded 70. Professor John Lott was one of the first to point out Holmes likely chose this particular target expressly because it was a gun-free zone.

“Most movie theaters allow permit holders carrying guns. But the Cinemark movie theater was the only one with a sign posted at the theater’s entrance prohibiting guns,” Lott wrote for Fox News. He continued, “There were seven movie theaters showing The Dark Knight Rises within 20 minutes of the killer’s apartment. At 4 miles and an 8-minute car ride away, the Cinemark’s Century Theater wasn’t the closest.

“Another theater was only 1.2 miles (3 minutes) away. There was also one just slightly further at 10 minutes away. It’s the ‘home of Colorado’s largest auditorium,’ according to the movie hotline welcome message. The potentially huge audience ought to have been attractive to someone trying to kill as many people as possible. But, all of those theaters allowed permitted concealed handguns.”

Lott concluded, “So why would a mass shooter pick a place that bans guns? The answer should be obvious, though it apparently isn’t clear to the media: disarming law-abiding citizens leaves them sitting ducks.”

Armed Citizens Fight Back
Arguments against gun-free zones beg the question: “So, what happens in the real world when an armed citizen fights back against one of these mass murderers?” Fortunately, it’s easy to answer. A while back on an anti-gun TV show, Diane Sawyer claimed she couldn’t find a case where an armed citizen had stopped such a death orgy. I submit she either didn’t look very hard, or her agenda overrode her journalistic approach. There are so many cases I didn’t have time to list them all when speaking at the GRPC, and don’t even have time to list them all in the pages I’m allotted here.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook horror, the media excoriated NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre for famously saying, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” Yet his statement was absolutely true. Sometimes the good guy (or gal) is a uniformed cop, an off-duty officer or an ordinary private citizen legally carrying a gun. In the big picture, it doesn’t matter whether the celluloid card in the hero’s pocket is a police ID or a CCW permit.
Historically, when mass murderers encounter armed resistance — in the US or abroad — the slaughter of the innocent ends immediately or very soon after. Sometimes, they surrender at virtually the first sight of an armed Good Guy — like Holmes meekly did when responding officers confronted him outside the “gun-free” theater. In Norway, Anders Breivik gave himself up to the first armed LEOs to arrive on the “gun-free” island where he massacred 77 helpless victims and wounded 319 on July 22, 2011.
Sometimes, these murderers commit suicide as soon as serious, armed resistance confronts them. Cho, the mass murderer of Virginia Tech in 2011, did so. The same happened with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School in 1999. Ditto for Adam Lanza when the Newtown police, with good response time, pulled up outside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Case Studies
On July 25, 1993, The Church of St. James in Cape Town, South Africa, becomes the target of a massacre by four members of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army. Wielding fully automatic military AR’s and lobbing hand grenades, the terrorists kill 11 helpless victims and wound 58. However, among the intended victims is missionary Charl van Wyk. He always carried a 5-shot, snub-nose .38 Special revolver … and now, he deploys it. His return fire wounds one of the attackers, and all of them break off the assault and flee the scene. Against all odds, his snub-nose .38 has turned the tide of battle against four killers with explosives and machine guns.
On June 20, 1994, at Fairchild Air Force base near Spokane, Wash., disgruntled ex-Airman Dean Mellberg has been released from the USAF due to bizarre behavior. He returns to the base with an AK clone and an extended-capacity drum magazine. He opens fire at the base hospital, killing a psychologist, psychiatrist, military wife, an 8-year-old girl and the unborn child of one of the 22 people he wounds. The rampage ends with the first armed person he encounters on this base.
Air Force Security Police Officer Andy Brown, on bicycle patrol and the first to arrive, comes under fire from the killer. With no cover, Brown kneels and returns fire with his issue Beretta M9, killing Mellberg with a 9mm bullet between the eyes at 70 yards. Awarded a medal for his courage, Brown will never know how many more lives were saved by his skillful and decisive action.
In Pearl, Miss., on October 1, 1997, 16-year-old Luke Woodham has stabbed his mother to death to gain access to the gun cabinet and his estranged father’s Marlin .30-30 hunting rifle. He takes the gun and lots of ammo to school, opening fire in the “commons” area. He murders two young women, one a former girlfriend, and wounds seven more of his schoolmates. Vice principal Joel Myrick sprints to the parking lot and retrieves his loaded Colt .45 auto from his truck. He interdicts Woodham, who’s about to drive away — with the rifle and plenty of remaining rounds — in the direction of the local junior high.
As soon as Myrick takes the young murderer at gunpoint, the latter throws himself to the ground in surrender and wails, “The world has wronged me, Mr. Myrick!” The vice principal’s quick action saved countless lives. It will never be known how much suffering could’ve been prevented if the school itself, a gun-free zone, would have allowed staff to be armed inside. In theory, this might have allowed Myrick to stop the carnage much sooner.
Disgruntled by a divorce proceeding, David Arroyo shows up at the Tyler, Texas, county courthouse wearing body armor and carrying an AK-47 clone on February 4, 2005. He opens fire on the courthouse steps, killing his ex-wife and wounding his own son. LEO’s open fire on him with handguns, but he has the position of advantage and the rifle. He drives them back, wounding three lawmen. But concealed carry instructor Mark Alan Wilson has rushed to the scene, and with his Colt .45 auto shoots down Arroyo.
However, he doesn’t realize his bullets have been stopped by the killer’s concealed armor, and tragically, Arroyo shoots and kills him. Nonetheless, the armed citizens discombobulated the gunman’s plans, and he flees without inflicting further carnage. Police pursue, and Tyler Police Sergeant Rusty Jacks kills Arroyo in the subsequent gunfight. The martyred armed citizen is hailed as a hero whose actions prevented countless deaths. Today, a large plaque erected to Mark Wilson’s memory stands prominently in downtown Tyler.
Further Case Studies
I wasn’t kidding when I said there are a lot of these cases — let’s look at a few more. On February 12, 2007 in Salt Lake City, Sulejman Talovic shows up at the Trolley Square Mall with a 12-ga. pump gun, .38-caliber handgun and a backpack full of ammo. He opens fire, randomly shooting nine innocent victims and killing five of them before he’s stopped. His murder spree is stalled when off-duty Ogden police officer Ken Hammond, eating with his wife in a mall restaurant, hears the shooting and “runs to the sound of the guns.” Hammond is armed only with a subcompact .45 loaded with six rounds, but his return fire pins down the killer long enough for SLCPD to arrive, and the killer dies in front of their MP-5 and AR-15 fire.
Having earlier attacked a religious center in Arvada, Colo., which left two dead and two wounded, Matthew Murray resurfaces at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs on December 9, 2007. He opens fire, killing another two and injuring three. But this time, there’s an armed citizen who literally runs to the sound of the guns. A former cop, with a carry permit and working volunteer church security, Jeanne Assam draws her Beretta 9mm and rushes the heavily-armed killer, firing as she moves. He falls, riddled with her bullets, with only enough strength left to pull the trigger one last time to finish himself off. Jeanne Assam is hailed as a hero who saved countless lives with her courage and skill.
On April 22, 2012, three months before the infamous theatre massacre in Aurora, a man with a grudge and a gun shows up a the New Destiny Christian Center and shoots the pastor’s mother to death. Before Kiarron Parker, a 29-year-old with a substantial criminal record, can claim any more victims, an off-duty cop attending the church draws his own handgun and shoots the assailant dead. An estimated 30 other members of the congregation present may have been saved from a criminal’s murderous intent because a Good Guy With A Gun was immediately present.
Just days after the horror in Newtown, a mass murder is thwarted at a movie theatre and Chinese restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. Jesus Manuel Garcia opens fire at the movie theatre from the parking lot, causing people to flee in panic. He also takes shots at a police car before off-duty deputy Lisa Castellano, working a second job, ends the matter by shooting him four times. In this case, there was no loss of innocent life. It’s not a gun-free zone: Someone was able to shoot back and end the deadly danger before it could become another infamous mass murder.
Crazed narcissist Eliot Rodger goes on a long-planned rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., on May 23, 2014. He uses knife and hammer to kill three young men, and then races his car through the community on a deadly spree, shooting people and running them over. Three more victims die from his bullets, eight are wounded, and he strikes four more with his vehicle. As soon as armed police confronts him, however, he almost immediately kills himself. The media will virtually ignore the non-gun deaths he inflicted, focusing on the three he accomplished with gunfire. The media will also ignore the fact carry permits are all but impossible to get in this part of California, which in effect rendered the entire community a “gun-free zone” for any spree killer who chose to commit his murders in public.
A crazy man comes to the right place, but does the wrong thing in Upper Darby, Pa., on July 24, 2014. Richard Plotts shoots and kills a female caseworker at a mental health office, and wounds psychiatrist Lee Silverman. But Dr. Silverman has a small pistol within reach and returns fire. Three gunshot wounds later, the killer is down and out of action — though he’ll survive his wounds. There was talk of punitive action against Dr. Silverman for having the pistol in a gun-free zone, but after police publicly announce he undoubtedly saved many lives, the doctor suffers no punishment.

In Moore, Okla., on September 26, 2014, a recently fired employee returns to the workplace and attacks with a knife, beheading one woman and stabbing a second. The boss, whose office is apparently not a gun-free zone, grabs his firearm and rushes to the scene, shooting the killer down and stopping the carnage.


If you want to know why the public doesn’t know, take the two shootings three months apart in Aurora. The atrocity at the theater lit up worldwide news for days and remains a cause célèbre; the thwarting of the killer at the church barely and briefly flickered across even Colorado media — and never made the mainstream at all. Part of it, certainly, is an inherent anti-gun bias, which the mainstream media has long made clear. But part of it’s simply because a killer being cut down as soon as he claims his first victim isn’t as “newsworthy” as a horrendous massacre of the helpless.

When a home burns down in your community, it probably makes front-page news in the local paper. When a homeowner uses a fire extinguisher to put out a kitchen blaze before it spreads, it may not make the news at all. An incident prevented isn’t seen as an incident. This is why, when the topic of gun-free zones comes up, we need to write letters to the editor and call in to the radio talk shows to spread the truth.

Many of the cases mentioned above were reported in detail here in the Ayoob Files. A complete archive is available online at www.americanhandgunner.
. An excellent account of the Tyler incident appears in my friend Chris Bird’s book, Thank God I Had a Gun, available at www.

The unequipped and unprepared are helpless. Bring your business to places where you can legally carry and do carry. Even a subcompact can suffice. Van Wyk drove off four terrorists with his 5-shot .38. But consider something bigger and easier to shoot well under stress … and always have spare ammunition. Officer Hammond, who had only three cartridges left at the end of the Trolley Square Mall gun battle, urged other officers to always carry off-duty, and to carry spare ammunition as well. Jeanne Assam’s familiarity and skill with her 15-shot Beretta saved lives in Colorado Springs.

The lessons of history are clear. The facts are stark and can be easily found by someone who doesn’t have a personal agenda. It’s not about political correctness; in the end, it’s about the protection of the innocent from evil.

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8 thoughts on “The False Hope Of Gun-Free Zones

  1. Andy Brown

    Outstanding words as usual, thank you Mass.
    I will post a link to this article on every one of my social media accounts and continue to spread the word outside of the choir. Until every law abiding, responsible armed citizen can defend themselves against evil, where ever it may be, we will always have Paris.

    Andy Brown, SSgt., USAF, Retired

  2. Norm Villanueva

    Excellent article. Lots of people do not realize the “other side” of the gun issue debate as the media does not give equal exposure to the terrible and unacceptable risk posed by “gun free zones.” Thank you, Mas, for addressing this topic and providing balance to this highly emotionally charged subject. I learn a lot from your articles, and look forward to every issue. Since reading your articles, I have carried everywhere for the past five years, and speak out on the gun issue with what, I hope, is a more intelligent, rational, unemotional, and fact filled approach. Thank you for providing much of the arguments I have used in my conversations.

    Norm Villanueva, USAF, Ret.

  3. Brian P.

    I challenge the premise that gun free zones are ‘well intentioned’ idea. I’m not that forgiving of politicians. They know better or should.

    The politicians that pass these laws (gun free zones), for as long as this debate has continued and as long as these people have been in office KNOW the facts and still institute these slaughter zones anyway. There is no excuse for these so called representatives to not know the facts when they have access to some data not even accessible to the public. They are guilty of one of two things, being so incompetent and approaching this serious subject with such a careless attitude they are reckless OR they know the facts, but still institute the government sanctioned victim zones on purpose. Either one demands their removal from office.

  4. Bill

    Just wanted to note that there is an error in the reference to the massacre at Virginia Tech. It occurred in 2007, not 2011. April 16, 2007. A windy morning with gusts to 50 or 60 mph and a very light snow.

  5. Bill

    I also wanted to say I could not agree more with the article. I cannot believe how people I work with at Virginia Tech who experienced the tragedy do not see gun free zones for what they are.

  6. Rick A

    It’s terrible but I believe a lot of these gun free zones are there to allow such atrocities to happen as they are used to promote further erosion of personal freedoms. Either that or our lawmakers and politicians are hopelessly stupid and naive.

    In any rate, well spoken.

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