Fox News Contributor Uses Garland Attack To Recycle Conservative Myth That “Gun-Free Zones” Attract Mass Shooters

Fox News contributor Rob O'Neil said the thwarted attempted terrorist attack in Garland, Texas was “a prime example of the difference between a gun-free zone and Texas,” a state with permissive gun laws. But in fact, civilians were banned from bringing guns to the event where the attack took place.

On May 3, two gunmen armed with assault weapons opened fire outside The Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, wounding a security guard. An armed police officer quickly killed both men. The attackers' target was an event hosted by anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller that featured a contest of cartoon drawings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed. 

On the May 6 edition of Fox & Friends, O'Neil, citing the attack on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, suggested that the outcome of the Texas attack could have been far worse had the event been held in a “gun-free zone.” He also said that the gunmen “were quickly introduced the Second Amendment” when they opened fire, and declared, “People need to realize that the best way to protect themselves from these attacks would be to arm yourself.”

Conservative media frequently advance the evidence-free claim that “gun-free zones” -- their term for places where civilians are not allowed to carry firearms -- are vulnerable to mass shootings and invite attacks by terrorists.

The thwarted attack, however, actually did take place in what conservative media would characterize as a “gun-free zone,” proving the fallacy of O'Neil's suggestion.

During an interview on the National Rifle Association's radio show, Cynthia Belisle, who attended cartoon contest event, said, “I do have a concealed carry permit -- I chose not to bring my weapon to this event. I knew that there would be magnetometers and we wouldn't be able to bring them in the facility, and I just felt like it was probably not the best idea to bring it that day.” Media reports confirm that attendees had to pass through a metal detector on their way inside.

The building where the event occurred is owned by the Garland Independent School District and under Texas law, firearms are prohibited “on the physical premises of a school or educational institution” ... “unless pursuant to written regulations or written authorization of the institution.”

The debunked claim that “gun-free zones” are dangerous is a favorite talking point of conservative media. For example, following the September 2013 mass shooting at Washington D.C.'s Navy Yard, media figures on the right quickly pointed out that the facility where the shooting happened was a “gun-free zone” and blamed that policy for the attack, even though the building's armed security guards engaged the gunman. (In fact, after shooting one guard, the gunman took his handgun.)

As Mother Jones has decisively shown, the “underlying assumptions” of pro-gun talking points that link places where guns are banned to mass attacks “are contradicted by data.” According to the magazine's analysis of 62 mass shootings over a 30-year period, “not a single case includes evidence that the killer chose to target a place because it banned guns. To the contrary, in many of the cases there was clearly another motive for the choice of location.” In the case of the Garland attack, the motive appears to have been the gunmen's fury over the event itself.

Mother Jones also found that none of the 62 shootings it looked at were thwarted by an armed civilian.

According to an analysis of mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2014 by gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety, 83 percent of attacks happened in places where guns could legally be carried. Just 17 percent were in “gun-free zones.”