Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.
(CNN) -- On NBC's "Meet the Press" this past Sunday, I was asked how we can make our schools safer and prevent another massacre like Sandy Hook from happening again. I suggested that if one person in the school had been armed and trained to handle a firearm, it might have prevented or minimized the massacre.
"And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," I said. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. Has to be someone who's trained. Has to be someone who's responsible."
Well, I sure did get mail. Many people agreed with me and sent me examples of their son or daughter's school that had armed security guards, police officers or school employees on the premises. Many others vehemently disagreed with me, and one dissenter even wrote that the blood of the Connecticut victims was ultimately on the hands of pro-gun rights advocates.
To that person I would ask: Suppose the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed lunging at the gunman was instead holding a firearm and was well trained to use it. Would the result have been different? Or suppose you had been in that school when the killer entered, would you have preferred to be armed?
Evidence and common sense suggest yes.
In 2007, a gunman entered New Life Church in Colorado Springs and shot and killed two girls. Jeanne Assam, a former police officer stationed as a volunteer security guard at the church, drew her firearm, shot and wounded the gunman before he could kill anyone else. The gunman then killed himself.
In 1997, high school student Luke Woodham stabbed his mother to death and then drove to Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi, and shot and killed two people. He then got back in his car to drive to Pearl Junior High to continue his killings, but Joel Myrick, the assistant principal, ran to his truck and grabbed his pistol, aimed it at Woodham and made him surrender.
These are but a few of many examples that the best deterrent of crime when it is occurring is effective self-defense. And the best self-defense against a gunman has proved to be a firearm.
And yet, there is a near impenetrable belief among anti-gun activists that guns are the cause of violence and crime. Like Frodo's ring in "The Lord of The Rings," they believe that guns are agencies of corruption and corrupt the souls of whoever touches them. Therefore, more guns must lead to more crime.
But the evidence simply doesn't support that. Take the controversial concealed-carry permit issue, for example.
In a recent article for The Atlantic magazine, Jeffrey Goldberg, by no means an avowed gun-rights advocate, declared, "There is no proof to support the idea that concealed-carry permit holders create more violence in society than would otherwise occur; they may, in fact, reduce it."
Goldberg cites evidence from Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, that concealed-carry permit holders actually commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population.
The General Accountability Office recently found that the number of concealed weapon permits in America has surged to approximately 8 million.
According to anti-gun advocates, such an increase in guns would cause a cause a corresponding increase in gun-related violence or crime. In fact, the opposite is true. The FBI reported this year that violent crime rates in the U.S. are reaching historic lows.
This comes in spite of the fact that the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Supporters of the ban (not including anti-gun groups who thought it didn't go far enough in the first place) claimed that gun crime would skyrocket when the ban was lifted. That wasn't true at all.
In fact, after the expiration of the ban, The New York Times, whose editorial pages are now awash with calls for more gun restrictions, wrote in early 2005, "Despite dire predictions that America's streets would be awash in military-style guns, the expiration of the decade-long assault weapons ban in September has not set off a sustained surge in the weapons' sales, gun makers and sellers say. It also has not caused any noticeable increase in gun crime in the past seven months, according to several city police departments."
But let's take the issue one step further and examine places where all guns, regardless of make or type, are outlawed: gun-free zones. Are gun-free zones truly safe from guns?
John Lott, economist and gun-rights advocate, has extensively studied mass shootings and reports that, with just one exception, the attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011, every public shooting since 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns. The massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary, Columbine, Virginia Tech and the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, all took place in gun-free zones.
These murderers, while deranged and deeply disturbed, are not dumb. They shoot up schools, universities, malls and public places where their victims cannot shoot back. Perhaps "gun-free zones" would be better named "defenseless victim zones."
To illustrate the absurdity of gun-free zones, Goldberg dug up the advice that gun-free universities offer to its students should a gunman open fire on campus. West Virginia University tells students to "act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter." These items could include "student desks, keys, shoes, belts, books, cell phones, iPods, book bags, laptops, pens, pencils, etc." Such "higher education" would be laughable if it weren't true and funded by taxpayer dollars.
Eliminating or restricting firearms for public self-defense doesn't make our citizens safer; it makes them targets. If we're going to have a national debate about guns, it should be acknowledged that guns, in the hands of qualified and trained individuals subject to background checks, prevent crime and improve public safety.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.