Discredited Gun Researcher John Lott Botches S.C. Law To Blame Charleston Church Shooting On “Gun-Free Zone”

UPDATE: Lott Surreptitiously Modifies His Original Article To Hide Error

UPDATE: Lott modified his original article and then used the change he made to deflect criticism of his claims. Lott's article now contains the line, “While the South Carolina law allows concealed handguns on church property if the permit holder is given express permission by the church authorities, that seems particularly unlikely for the African Methodist Episcopal Church.” This line does not appear in a cached version of his original post. When Lott was criticized on Twitter for his original claim about gun laws in South Carolina, he replied, “Srsly?Read my post: 'SC law allows concealed handguns on church property if the permit holder is given express permission by...'” -- quoting from the line he surreptitiously added to his original article. 

Discredited gun researcher John Lott falsely claimed that guns are “banned” in South Carolina churches to blame the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on “gun-free zones.”

On the evening of July 17, a gunman opened fire during a bible study meeting at the church, killing nine people.

Lott, who invented the debunked “more guns, less crime” hypothesis and is a frequent source of conservative misinformation on gun violence, quickly blamed “gun-free zones” for the shooting. On the website of his group, Crime Prevention Research Center, Lott wrote, “Not surprising that yet another mass public shooting has taken place where guns were banned. Yet, again, the ban only ensured that the victims were vulnerable.” Lott titled his article, “Another Shooting in a Gun-free Zone: Nine Dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.”

Lott then offered a “synopsis” of South Carolina law - taken from an article on CriminalDefenseLawyer.com - that suggested guns cannot be carried in churches and some other locations.

Lott's synopsis linked to S.C. Code Ann.§ 23-31-215, which says that individuals with concealed carry licenses can bring guns into churches with the permission of a church official. Here is what the actual law says:

M) A permit issued pursuant to this section does not authorize a permit holder to carry a concealable weapon into a:


(8) church or other established religious sanctuary unless express permission is given by the appropriate church official or governing body;

In an opinion piece for FoxNews.com, Lott similarly mischaracterized South Carolina law, writing, “the massacre took place in a gun-free zone, a place where the general public was banned from having guns.” Lott also speculated that gun policies formed the shooter's motive, writing, “Churches, like the one in Charleston, preach peace, but the killer there probably chose that target because he knew the victims were defenseless.”

The term “gun-free zone” is typically defined by conservatives and gun violence prevention groups alike as areas where civilians are prohibited from carrying concealed guns under any circumstance. 

Regardless of Emmanual AME's own gun policy, Lott's eagerness to blame the massacre on it taking place in a “gun-free zone” is a red herring. There is no evidence that “gun-free zones” are more dangerous than places that do allow guns, nor is there evidence that mass shooters choose their targets based on local gun laws.

According to an analysis of mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2014 conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety, “Seventy-seven of the 110 incidents (70%) took place wholly in private residences. Of the 33 incidents in public spaces, at least 18 took place wholly or in part where concealed guns could be lawfully carried.”

An analysis of 62 mass public shootings over a 30-year period by Mother Jones found no instance where a gunman targeted a location because of its gun policy. In many of the cases, however, some other motive was apparent. The report noted, “For example, 20 were workplace shootings, most of which involved perpetrators who felt wronged by employers and colleagues.”

In the case of the Charleston shooting, authorities are reportedly investigating the attack as a hate crime.