"Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings,
and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws."
A Study by Profs. John Lott and William Landes

[By Eugene Volokh, who teaches constitutional law and copyright law at
UCLA Law School -- 26 April 1999]

I just ran across a very interesting -- and timely -- study by John Lott & William Landes, "Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws." Of course, it's hard to properly judge such a study until one has seen the responses to it and the responses to the responses, and this work is too new for that. Nonetheless, Lott and Landes are top-notch scholars: John Lott is the author of the recent "More Guns, Less Crime," to name just one of many dozen works on his c.v.; William Landes is one of the founders of the Law & Economics movement, and is a professor of law and economics at University of Chicago Law School.

This is an intriguing and important work, which deserves a great deal of attention. I reproduce the Abstract and the Conclusion below; the full text is available in PDF format at



Few events obtain the same instant worldwide news coverage as multiple victim public shootings. These crimes allow us to study the alternative methods used to kill a large number of people (e.g., shootings versus bombings), marginal deterrence and the severity of the crime, substitutability of penalties, private versus public methods of deterrence and incapacitation, and whether attacks produce "copycats." Yet economists have not studied this phenomenon.

Our results are surprising and dramatic. While arrest or conviction rates and the death penalty reduce "normal" murder rates, our results find that the only policy factor to influence multiple victim public shootings is the passage of concealed handgun laws. We explain why public shootings are more sensitive than other violent crimes to concealed handguns, why the laws reduce both the number of shootings as well as their severity, and why other penalties like executions have differential deterrent effects depending upon the type of murder.


The results of this paper support the hypothesis that concealed handgun or shall issue laws reduce the number of multiple victim public shootings. Attackers are deterred and the number of people injured or killed per attack is also reduced, thus for the first time providing evidence that the harm from crimes that still occur can be mitigated. The much greater level of deterrence for multiple victim public shootings than for other crimes like murder is consistent with the notion that a higher probability of citizens being able to defend themselves should produce a greater level of deterrence. The results are robust with respect to different specifications of the dependent variable, different specifications of the handgun law variable, and the inclusion of additional law variables (e.g., mandatory waiting periods, and enhanced penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime).

Not only does the passage of a shall issue law have a significant impact on multiple shootings but it is the only law related variable that appears to have a significant impact. Other law enforcement efforts from the arrest rate for murder to the death penalty to waiting periods and background checks are not systematically related to multiple shootings. A particularly surprising result is how the death penalty is so important in deterring murders generally, but has no significant impact on multiple victim public shootings. Finally, the data provides little evidence of either a substitution from shootings to bombings or of "copycat" effects.


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