In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, conservative commentators instantly referred to the school as a “gun-free zone,” falling back on conservative media's go-to mass shooting talking point.
At least 10 people were reported killed, and many others injured October 1 during an Oregon community college mass shooting, and as facts concerning the shooting remained scarce, media figures immediately made references to the campus as a “gun-free zone” on CNN, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the Drudge Report, and other conservative websites.
But these references of “gun-free zones” represent a red herring because they rely on the assumption that more people carrying guns would stop mass shootings, when in reality there is no evidence to support such claims.
The overwhelming majority of mass shootings actually occur where guns are allowed to be carried. And according to an analysis of 62 public mass shootings over a 30 year period conducted by Mother Jones, not a single shooting was stopped by a civilian carrying a firearm. Mother Jones also found that gunmen do not choose to target locations because guns are not allowed, but rather other motives typically exist for choice of location, such as a workplace grievance.
As Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes explained in a commentary for The Trace, the idea that “gun-free zones” attract mass shooters is based on the faulty assumption that the shooters are “rational actors”:
Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the argument against gun-free zones, in the context of mass shootings, is its underlying assumption that shooters are rational actors. Lott himself admits that about half of criminals who commit mass shootings have received a “formal diagnosis of mental illness,” yet his model requires them to act precisely as we know they don't: as hyperrational, calculating machines, intentionally seeking out gun-free environments for the sole purpose of maximizing causalities.
In reality, many shooters target a location based on an emotional grievance or an attachment to a particular person or place. An FBI study of 160 active shootings (defined as a shooter actively attempting to kill people in a populated area, regardless of the amount of fatalities) between 2000 and 2013 -- including the high-profile mass shootings in Tucson and Aurora -- shows that of the shootings that occurred in commercial or educational areas, the shooter had some relationship with the area in 63 percent of the cases.