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Guns and gun laws

Teachers packing heat

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment March 13, 2013 10:00 AM

Have you ever noticed that people who witness and survive mass shootings often describe the gunmen as having been extremely relaxed and calm during their rampage? This level of composure stems from the detailed planning that is typical of these massacres -- planning that includes where and when to attack as well as with what weapons. Strategizing prepares them logistically and psychologically for "warfare."

In contrast, the rest of us are taken by surprise and respond frantically. A sudden and wild shootout involving the assailant and citizens armed with concealed weapons would potentially catch countless innocent victims in the crossfire.

The effectiveness of concealed-carry laws in deterring mass murder is actually an empirical question, one that has been examined by criminologist Grant Duwe and his colleagues. Using fairly sophisticated analytic techniques, they assessed the extent to which various "right-to-carry" laws in 25 states across the country were associated with any change in the incidence of public mass shootings in the years from 1977 through 1999. Based on their estimates, the impact of these laws was negligible, neither encouraging nor discouraging mass murder.


NRA's flawed strategy

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment December 21, 2012 04:00 PM

After days of suspense wondering how the NRA would, as promised, contribute to the growing array of recommendations for enhancing school safety, we have its simple solution. Wayne LaPierre, Executive Director of the NRA, has suggested that we equip every school in America -- schools of every size, level, and type -- with an armed guard, someone who would be prepared to ward off any dangerous intruder.

Never mind that most school homicides are perpetrated by insiders, typically disgruntled students not deranged strangers. Never mind that thousands of schools already have sworn police officers on site.


The Colorado shooting and gun control

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment July 20, 2012 11:30 AM

Author's note: I hope you'll take the time to read the entire piece. Unfortunately, it is easy for some to jump to quick conclusions without moving past the headlines. So let me be clear about this post. As my frequent readers know, I do support reasonable gun restrictions and regulations--certain steps designed to reduce our nation's overall rate of firearms violence. Still, murder in its most extreme form, as in the Colorado shooting, is particularly difficult to prevent through gun restrictions, or other strategies, for that matter. Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try nonetheless. It would be the right thing to do, although not necessarily for the right reasons. Those reasons occur every day on the streets of America.

* * * * *

There are few criminal events as stunning and frightening as a mass shooting. The suddenness, randomness and unpredictability(CNN) -- There are few criminal events as stunning and frightening as a mass shooting. The suddenness, randomness and unpredictability of episodes like Friday's early morning massacre at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater cause us all to wonder whether any place is safe.

In our search for some pattern or commonality to these tragedies that might help us make sense of what appears so senseless, we invariably seek answers to such questions as: "What would inspire someone to commit such a dreadful act, one that was clearly planned in terms of time and place?" and "Are there measures that would reduce the likelihood of such events or at least reduce the carnage associated with them when they do occur?"

Read the full article at CNN.

Pistols and paranoia

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment February 27, 2012 08:30 AM

There is one thing that makes me even more uncomfortable than the thought of being surrounded by lots of strangers with concealed weapons beneath their coats. It is the thought of being surrounded by any strangers with concealed weapons beneath their coats and paranoid ideas floating around their brains. Pistols and paranoia are a scary mix indeed.

According to the non-psychiatric vernacular, paranoia is “a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others.” As such, there is now and has been in previous years the rather unrealistic fear on the part of many gun advocates that some autocrat holding the keys to the White House will decide to round up all of their guns.


GOP: Gun Owners' Party

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment January 10, 2012 05:00 AM

After today, the Republican hopefuls for the Presidency will leave the Granite State, some disappointed by their showing in the New Hampshire primary while others energized as they move on to the next preliminary. Over the past week or more, political operatives have been busy arranging TV spots and campaign stops for their candidates, endeavoring to win over the surprisingly sizable pool of undecided voters.

Selections of media-targeted photo opportunities tend to say a lot about a candidate. And in Saturday's Boston Globe, two of the contenders were unabashedly playing up to gun-loving conservative voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere. FULL ENTRY

A life-saving holiday gift

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment December 16, 2011 09:30 AM

Like most people, I struggle every year to come up with creative gift ideas for all the family members and close friends on my holiday shopping list. Well, this season, the task was easy. With an eye toward the practical, I’m buying them all bullet-proof vests.

Why should I be so motivated this year when crime rates, including that of murder, are relatively low? My worry is two-fold: the growing momentum of concealed-carry legislation in many jurisdictions combined with Congressional action that would establish reciprocity among the states in the right to carry loaded firearms.


Boston's illegal gun problem

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment August 24, 2011 07:00 AM

As a criminologist, I was drawn to the interactive map of this year's Boston homicides that was featured in earlier this month. The concentration of murders in the city’s poorest neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan is obvious yet hardly surprising. These areas of the city have long been “hot spots” for violence.

To me, the far more intriguing pattern to this year’s homicides lies in weapon use, identified in the list of cases just below the map. The overwhelming majority of murders -- just over 85% -- was by firearm. And, unlike the stable geographic pattern, the weapon distribution in Boston homicides has shifted over the past few decades. As shown in the figure below, the percentage of Boston homicides that involves a gun is now at a record high. And the costs to families and society, in general, are staggering.


The lesson from VA Tech's false alarm

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment August 4, 2011 05:00 PM

The Virginia Tech campus police acted responsibly when it launched this campus-wide alert after receiving a phone tip from three teenagers attending a summer program:

"Person with a gun reported near Dietrick. Stay inside. Secure doors. Emergency personnel responding. Call 911 for help."


Even though the three young witnesses to a man carrying what seemed to be a handgun covered by some type of cloth may have been mistaken, it was wise for campus authorities to err on the side of caution. Moreover, the University had been criticized and recently fined -- unfairly so -- for failing to respond sufficiently to the double homicide on the early morning of April 16, 2007, that turned out to be but the first wave of far a far worse rampage to come later that morning.

With a mandate from the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, colleges are encouraged act promptly in the face of a credible threat to the safety and well-being of its students or employees. Of course, credibility is the in eyes of the beholder, but better safe than sorry. After several hours of follow-up investigation with no confirmation of danger, the campus police lifted the warning. Of course, by then classes had been cancelled and folks had gone home.


Probe academic record, not criminal record

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment June 20, 2011 09:15 AM

When a student at the MassBay Community College was arrested last winter for having a loaded semiautomatic weapon inside his backpack, we were all relieved that no one was harmed. But as more details surfaced indicating that the student had had a substantial criminal record, the relief turned to outrage. How could such a dangerous individual be admitted as a student?

As a long-time and consistent opponent of allowing guns on college campuses (with the exception of those issued to duly-sworn campus police), you might think I too would be outraged. You might think I'd join the vocal crowd, including Globe columnist Derrick Jackson and those at the Globe's Editorial Board, to insist that community colleges, like their four-year counterparts, probe applicants concerning their criminal pasts. Well, think again.


Guns on campus - More peril than protection

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment April 8, 2011 11:30 AM

The Arizona legislature passed a measure yesterday hat would force colleges and universities in the state to allow properly-licensed students and staff to carry firearms -- concealed or in open view -- while walking or driving through campus. If signed by Governor Janice Brewer, a supporter of gun-owner rights, Arizona will join Utah in redefining the notion of marksmanship on campus. It is no longer just about grades.

As compromise to opponents in the state senate, the Arizona bill was strategically narrowed from an earlier version that would also have permitted concealed firearms in dorms, classrooms and other campus buildings. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the similarly gun-lovin' state of Texas are continuing to deliberate on such a broad proposal.

The shifting tide in at least one corner of America is a victory for Students for Concealed Carry, a national organization formed after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. But many faculty see it as as the makings of a hostile workplace. How comfortable would instructors be in handing out poor grades to students who may be packing heat? No wonder that the faculties at all three state universities in Arizona overwhelmingly voiced opposition to the guns-on-campus bill. Apparently, their voice of reason and concern was trumped by those calling for unrestricted gun rights.


About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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