What alleged safety mechanism unites the Washington Navy Yard, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Columbine scenes of terror? Each was a designated gun-free zone, even as the sites were eventually turned into shooting galleries by madmen.

Now, in the wake of yet another school shooting this month in Nevada, it's time to take a hard look at gun-free zones and admit that they far too often become dangers to public safety rather than serving as sanctuaries from violence.


Consider the concept from the madmen’s perspective. In their own dark minds they feel isolated from the world and have a grossly inflated notion of their self importance matched only by perceived grudges against society. To them, all humanity is an enemy. They wish to exact revenge against as many people as possible, as publicly as possible. We focus on innocent lives lost in past tragedies; conversely, they view previous mass killers as heroes who blazed a path to their own personal glory. 

From the moment the madman begins his rampage until the last bullet is fired, these episodes average less than 15 minutes.

For the innocents under fire, the most deadly time period is between the first shot and the arrival of armed law enforcement. It's this critical window – an unguarded stretch of eight to ten harrowing minutes – that lures killers to gun-free zones.

What's to be done? We must learn to differentiate real deterrents to these shooting sprees from the window dressing of failed gun-control policies.

First, we need remove from the madmen’s thinking this idea that there are soft or easy targets. The federal government first declared schools to be gun-free zones in 1990 (modifying the law in 1995) with no realistic thought to true school security. The result? Mass gun violence in schools increased dramatically. It is no coincidence that Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook occurred after creating this law. If the government determines that a place is too sensitive to allow any private individual to carry guns, then it must do a lot more than put up a sign. If you disarm the private individual, you have an increased obligation to protect that private individual. If a gun free area exists, therefore, the following become requirements:

Storage: Private individuals should not be defenseless traveling to and from gun-free areas. A safe, secure location must exist to store firearms;

Screening: All entrants into the areas must be screened for weapons – no exceptions; 

Security: There must be sufficient armed security in place to reduce armed response time to a minute or less.

Second, if these requirements cannot be enacted in a location, we must stop clinging to an illusion that designation alone of a gun-free zone offers safety. Instead, we must allow private individuals to exercise their Second Amendment right to protect themselves and others. 

Third, these madmen are craving publicity; the media must react responsibly. These individuals, in their dark existence, want the world to know their names. The media need to keep them anonymous. Reporters already shield the names of rape victims and minors. The media need to act in similar responsible fashion with these madmen. We, as a society, must eliminate the personal “glory” they desire.

Fourth, we need to start taking seriously the crisis of public health. A 2011 study at the University of California found direct correlation between homicide rates by the mentally ill and the difficulty of involuntarily committing individuals who pose a threat to themselves and others. The report concluded: "The study’s findings [demonstrate] a need for increased protective oversight, in better quality mental health systems, increased bed access, and [involuntary inpatient/outpatient care] criteria facilitating early preventive intervention for a very vulnerable population of people with serious mental illness." 

Any emotional, unworkable, and unconstitutional anti-gun ownership legislation, in reaction to these too-frequent shootings, will not prevent successive tragedies – just as the knee jerk remedy of “gun-free zones” failed to prevent those that came previously. Instead our response must be fact-driven and targeted to eliminate the situations, opportunities and motives of the madmen who imperil us all.

Lindsey is a Republican state lawmaker in Georgia and currently a candidate for U.S. Congress in Georgia's 11th district.