The Growing Myth Of Mass Shootings And “Gun-Free Zones”

Clinton Didn't “Ban” Guns On Military Bases

Navy Yard

Soon after news broke about the shooting spree at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. -- a gun rampage that claimed the lives of 12 victims -- conservative commentators rushed to blame gun regulations for the carnage. Specifically, they blamed the fact that the Navy Yard is a “gun-free zone,” which they suggested meant none of the employees could defend themselves while a madman targeted victims.

The “gun-free zone” argument has become a favorite fallback position for gun advocates in the wake of deadly shooting sprees. Desperate to turn attention away from the epidemic of gun violence in America and shooters' ability to get access to firearms, conservatives insist that if everyone were armed, mass shootings wouldn't occur. (i.e. The "good guys" would stop the “bad guys.”) And in terms of shootings on military bases, the universal right-wing truth now is that it's all Bill Clinton's fault because in 1993 he banned guns on military bases, making it impossible for soldiers to respond to eruptions of hostile gunfire. Bases are “unarmed” due to a “Clinton-era law,” according to Rush Limbaugh, while killers “pick places where there are no guns.” 

In reality, the rules on military bases don't ban all guns, which is obvious since among the shooter's first victims were armed security personnel. And those rules were actually issued during the first Bush administration and survived the second, despite their alleged perfidy.

But since Monday, lamenting “gun-free zones” has become the preferred battle cry. 

National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent tweeted, “America has lost her soul when we turn US Military bases into gunfree slaughterzones Shame on us.” A Daily Caller writer claimed the Navy Yard gunman didn't “have to worry about anybody shooting back” because the site's a “gun-free zone.”  And yesterday, Alex Jones' conspiracy site InfoWars informed readers that “almost all mass shootings take place where Americans have been disarmed.”

By suggesting guns are banned at the Navy Yard, gun advocates want to paint the picture of an utterly defenseless, almost pacifist, facility; one where a gunman will have free reign over a completely unprotected community.

News reports from the Navy Yard clearly debunk that claim.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Washington, D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier detailed how local police officers arrived at the Navy Yard within two or three minutes of the first shots ringing out, and that even before that, “internal security” at the Navy Yard was firing at the gunman. 

Does that sound like gun-free facility to you? Does that sound like the gunman didn't have to worry about anybody shooting back, as the Daily Caller absurdly claimed?

The attempt to blame Clinton is even more of a stretch, but it's also become a constant.

Following the Texas mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, which killed 13 people, the Washington Times reported, “Among President Clinton's first acts upon taking office in 1993 was to disarm U.S. soldiers on military bases.” Yesterday, bloggers at and elsewhere unearthed the Washington Times piece to claim that, “thanks to Clinton,” most personnel couldn't shoot back when they came under fire.

That claim has since jumped to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. On America Live, Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano blamed “an executive order from President Clinton in 1993 which prohibits carrying weapons when on duty on military posts” for the “magnitude” of the Navy Yard and Fort Hood massacres. Later in the program, Fox host Oliver North claimed that “in March of 1993, U.S. military bases were effectively made gun-free zones by executive order issued by Bill Clinton.”

What these media conservatives are pointing to is not an executive order but a regulation issued by the Department of the Army in March 1993 regarding firearms on military bases. While that rule said most soldiers are not allowed to carry weapons, the Army certainly did not ban all guns in those facilities.  

According to the Army's 1993 directive:

a. The authorization to carry firearms will be issued only to qualified personnel when there is a reasonable expectation that life or Department of the Army (DA) assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried.

b. DA personnel regularly engaged in law enforcement or security duties will be armed.

c. DA personnel are authorized to carry firearms while engaged in security duties, protecting personnel and vital Government assets, or guarding prisoners.

Moreover, while conservatives are blaming Clinton for the Army regulation, The New Republic's Ryan Kearney points out that the rule was actually established in response to a 1992 Department of Defense directive, issued during the presidency of George H. W. Bush.

Curiously, the conservatives pushing these claims did not question why, if Clinton really backed such a naked gun grab, President George W. Bush didn't change the rules for military bases during his eight years in office. (Answer: Clinton didn't.)

Meanwhile, yesterday's tragedy simply confirms what we already knew about gun-free zones, and further debunks the claim that they're culpable for gun rampages.

First, the right-wing myth that shooters specifically open fire on locations that don't allow guns because they know there won't be armed resistance. That's false. As Mother Jones reported as part of its ongoing analysis of gun rampages, “Among the 62 mass shootings over the last 30 years that we studied, not a single case includes evidence that the killer chose to target a place because it banned guns." An analysis from Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that fewer than one quarter of mass shootings in public spaces from January 2009 through January 2013 occurred in gun-free zones.

Instead, most gunmen choose their killing sites because they have a personal connection to it (i.e. it's their workplace or school), not because of the location's posted gun policy.

Secondly, if more guns, and access to more guns, is the answer to curbing shooting sprees, then why haven't more guns curbed shooting sprees? As Mother Jones noted, nearly 100 state laws loosening gun restrictions have been passed in the last four years, yet 2012 was the worst year for mass shootings in recent history.

Now, thanks to the Navy Yard massacre, 2013 is on track to set another deadly record. And no, “gun-free zones” aren't the reason why.