Just three days before the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, airport, the Florida legislature was considering a bill that would allow people to openly carry firearms in airports.
Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel pointed out the news on Twitter, based on a Tallahassee Democrat report from January 3:
Florida Open Carry Inc. began rallying its troops New Year’s Eve with a mass email in support of “the most important pro-Second Amendment rights bill of the 2017 legislative session.”
SB 140 repeals laws forbidding guns on college campuses, in airports terminals, and at government meetings. Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, will introduce the measure to the Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Florida Open Carry Inc. urged its members to call lawmakers and tell them to line up behind Steube’s proposal.
It’s unclear what the bill’s chances of passing the legislature are now, especially after the Fort Lauderdale shooting. Similar bills have failed in the past few years in the Florida legislature.
Generally, the argument for these open carry laws is they make people safer: By letting people carry guns openly, the thinking goes, they can deter or respond to threats more quickly than law enforcement could perhaps respond.
“If you want to kill as many people as possible before the cops arrive then you are likely to go to a place where law-abiding citizens can’t carry,” Florida state Sen. Greg Steube said when he filed the bill. “That’s what we’ve seen, time and time again and why I think we shouldn’t have [gun-free zones].” (Steube’s office did not respond to a request for comment by publishing time.)
But multiple simulations have demonstrated that most people, if placed in an active shooter situation while armed, will not be able to stop the situation, and may in fact do little more than get themselves killed in the process. This video, from ABC News, shows one such simulation, in which people repeatedly fail to shoot an active shooter before they're shot:
More broadly, the evidence suggests that loosening access to firearms only increases gun deaths.
More guns mean more gun deaths
The idea is simple: The prevalence of guns can cause petty arguments and conflicts to escalate into deadly encounters. People of every country get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone will get angry during an argument, pull out a gun, and kill someone.
The research overwhelmingly supports this idea: When there are more guns and gun owners, there are far more gun deaths. Studies have found this to be true again and again — for homicides, suicides, domestic violence, and violence against police.
Here’s one chart, from a 2007 study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers, showing the correlation between statewide firearm homicide victimization rates and household gun ownership after controlling for robbery rates:
A more recent study from 2013, led by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher, reached similar conclusions: After controlling for multiple variables, the study found that a 1 percent increase in gun ownership correlated with a roughly 0.9 percent rise in the firearm homicide rate at the state level.
This holds up around the world. As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp explained, a breakthrough analysis in the 1990s by UC Berkeley’s Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins found that the US does not, contrary to the old conventional wisdom, have more crime in general than other Western industrial nations. Instead, the US appears to have more lethal violence — and that’s driven in large part by the prevalence of guns.
“A series of specific comparisons of the death rates from property crime and assault in New York City and London show how enormous differences in death risk can be explained even while general patterns are similar,” Zimring and Hawkins wrote. “A preference for crimes of personal force and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery make similar levels of property crime 54 times as deadly in New York City as in London.”
These studies aren’t the only ones to reach such conclusions. Multiple reviews of the research, including the Harvard Injury Control Research Center’s aggregation of the evidence, have consistently found a link between gun ownership and gun deaths after controlling for other factors.
Guns are not the only factor that contributes to violence. (Other factors include, for example, poverty, urbanization, and alcohol consumption.) But when researchers control for other confounding variables, they have found time and time again that America’s high levels of gun ownership are a major reason the US is so much worse in terms of gun violence than its developed peers.
That helps explain why the most rigorous reviews of gun policies have concluded that stricter gun laws can reduce gun violence and deaths: A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews, found that new legal restrictions on owning and purchasing guns tended to be followed by a drop in gun violence — a strong indicator that restricting access to guns can save lives.
Taking all of this together, the empirical research seems clear: If Florida or any other state wants to reduce gun violence, the better idea may be to restrict access to guns, not make them easier to carry around.