School of Criminal Justice Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Abraham S. Fischler School of Education

First Advisor

Grace Telesco

Second Advisor

Gregory Vecchi

Third Advisor

Sebastian Gorka


Gun violence is a pandemic problem in the United States, resulting in over two thirds of all homicides each year. Consequently, gun related policies have been fiercely debated within the political spectrum, with the 20th century seeing a dramatic increase in gun control legislation. Gun-free zones are designated areas that strictly prohibit all private citizens from carrying a firearm, even those with concealed weapon permits. The statistics indicate that numerous instances of gun related mass shootings have occurred within the confines of these gun-free zones (schools, movie theatres, government installations, etc.). However, little research exists to understand whether citizens actually feel any safer when they are in a gun-free zone.

The purpose of this study was to explore citizens’ perceptions about gun control policies, specifically about using gun-free zones, who resided in the five states with the highest rates of gun violence per capitain descending order, these included Virginia, Florida, Texas, Nevada, and Connecticut. Moreover, these five states were the locations of the top five deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history to date. The researcher also discovered how residents felt about pro-gun areas, where responsible citizens could legally carry firearms, as well as determine whether gun-free zones influenced their likelihood of visiting a prescribed location. Finally, the study sought to understand residents’ perceptions regarding using gun-free zones pertaining to their impact on reducing incidents of mass shootings. The researcher filled the gap in the literature regarding knowledge pertaining to citizens’ perceptions about using specific gun control measures, such as gun-free zones, and the influence that the historical evidence had on their perceptions.

The answer to RQ1 (do residents associate using gun-free zones with feelings of safety or feelings of concern?) was that participants were twice as likely to associate using gun-free zones with feelings of concern rather than feelings of safety. The answer to the first part of RQ2 (whether participants believed that gun-free zones reduced gun-related violence) was no, based on a 2-to-1 ratio. Responses to the impact of gun control measures on reducing gun violence were closely matched to perceptions of the role of gun-free zones in reducing gun violence. The answer to the second part of RQ2 (do residents believe that gun-free zones lower the occurrences of mass shooting incidents?) was no, again based on a 2-to-1 ratio. The answer to the third and final part of RQ2 (whether participants’ perceptions correlated to the historical/empirical evidence of the location of mass shootings as primarily inside of or outside of gun-free zones) was yes for participants from Florida, Texas, Nevada, and Connecticut and no for participants from Virginia.