Signs Don’t Stop Evildoers

posted on May 2, 2023
gun free zone sign
Illustration: Gary Locke

Will wonders never cease? In February, The New York Times began to question one of the stupidest—perhaps the stupidest—piece of gun-control orthodoxy on offer in these United States: that hardened criminals will be stopped from taking guns into a given area by signs telling them that they are not allowed to do so. In the wake of a murder in New York’s Times Square, the Times noted that “the shooting was the first since the creation of the expansive, signposted zone, the police said in a statement,” and suggested that this “immediately renewed questions about whether such a designation can truly protect the area.”

Surprisingly, the paper then went so far as to answer its own question with a quotation from Tom Harris, a retired New York police inspector who argued that the very idea of gun-free zones is intrinsically ridiculous: “‘A gun-free zone is not going to stop a criminal from carrying a gun,’ Mr. Harris said.”

Harris is, of course, correct. And that the Times finally seems to be waking up to this raises a couple of important questions going forward. First, having noticed that signposts do not stop criminals from committing crimes, will the Times continue to insist that gun-free zones somehow prevent crime? If not, why not? Second, will the Times follow its new insight to its logical conclusion and recognize that requiring small plastic cards as a prerequisite to concealed carry is not going to stop criminals from carrying guns?

That second question is crucial. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022) that the states are not permitted to require applicants for concealed-carry permits to demonstrate “proper-cause,” the Times has run piece after piece after piece decrying the decision as a serious impediment to the efforts of the police. “Regulating guns saves lives,” the paper’s editorial board wrote two days after the ruling was issued, and they argued that by limiting the states’ ability to determine which otherwise-eligible applicants may carry firearms, and where they may do so, Bruen has foreclosed “reasonable efforts to protect public safety.” As an example of the sort of incident that New York might struggle to avoid in the future, the Times offered up “the subway, the site of a mass shooting in April.”

But, of course, New York’s pre-Bruen laws did not prevent that mass murder in the subway—which happened under the state’s Draconian may-issue concealed-carry system, in a “gun-free” zone, in the most-locked-down city in America. And how could they have? As the Times itself noted, signposts are unable to “truly protect” any area, because criminals don’t care about the signs in the slightest.

Also, while the Times hasn’t gotten there yet, there is no reason to believe that the onerous concealed-carry permitting system that New York has adopted post-Bruen will make any difference, either, as this law simply targets law-abiding people who want to carry concealed.

If, as Tom Harris noted, “a gun-free zone is not going to stop a criminal from carrying a gun,” then why would the lack of a piece of paper prevent them from illegally carrying a gun?

What will stop criminals? That answer, too, made its way into the Times’ piece: “Mr. Harris said the shooting on Thursday showed the need for a more holistic approach to fighting crime at the state level, such as imposing stronger punishments on repeat violent offenders.”

What a concept! Might be worth a try. 


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