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Do Most Mass Shootings Happen In 'Gun-Free Zones'? Analysts Disagree

After Monday’s shooting a Christian school in Nashville, social media users shared a post that claims nearly all mass shootings happen in designated “gun-free zones” where firearms are expressly prohibited, such as schools. “The facts: 92-98% of mass shootings happen in gun-free zones. Today was yet another example of that,” reads an Instagram post. “Great job on the Gun Free School Zones Act, Clinton and Biden.” The oft-cited figure comes from a study by a gun rights advocacy group that experts say is flawed. They say the study draws from federal data on “active shooter” incidents, which is not the same as a mass shooting. It also excludes gang-related incidents, yet includes military bases and other locations that aren’t arguably “gun free.” There are no definitive data on how many “mass shootings” occur in “gun-free” zones, because there is no consensus on how to define either term, the Associated Press reports. The Instagram post refers to a 1990 law that made it illegal for anyone to possess a firearm in a school zone unless part of a school program or by a law enforcement officer. It was signed when President Bill Clinton was in office and Joe Biden served as a senator from Delaware.


The figure comes from a study by gun rights advocacy group the Crime Prevention Research Center. The group says 94% of mass public shootings since 1950 happened in gun-free zones. The group’s president argues that gun-free zones “invite” mass shootings. Looking at gun violence data from 1950 to 1990 is “irrelevant” because many states banned or heavily restricted concealed firearms during that period, says Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Gun Violence Solutions. Webster and other experts say the center’s study wrongly classifies places where armed officers are stationed -- such as military bases -- as gun-free zones. It also excluded gang-related shootings and other mass shootings related to other major crimes. The center’s study relies on the FBI’s data on “active shooter” incidents, which isn’t the same as a mass shooting, said Jaclyn Schildkraut of the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium. "You could have 0 fatalities and injuries and be included in that data,” she said. John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center argued that the exclusion of shootings stemming from gang violence or other crimes is appropriate. He said the “causes and solutions” of those incidents are “dramatically different” from those of typical mass shootings, where the aim is generally to kill or injure as many people as possible.

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