COMMENTARY: Clear evidence from states with conceal carry
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Section: EDITORIAL COMMENTARY COLUMN: Proposition B:
More security or greater danger?
March 21, 1999 BY John R. Lott Jr.
Can we trust citizens who obtain concealed handgun permits? Proposition B Will they behave responsibly? Recent articles in the Post-Dispatch examined the experiences in Oklahoma and Indiana - two of the 43 states with concealed handgun laws. In Oklahoma, during the three years since that state passed the law, 25,262 permits have been issued and only 20 revoked (that is less than .08 percent). Last year, Indiana had 295,000
permits; only 483 were revoked or suspended (about .16 percent). Yet even these numbers exaggerate the risks posed by permit holders. For example, Oklahoma's 20 revocations include at least a few permit holders whose licenses were "revoked" simply because they died. The Oklahoma Supreme Court also recently ruled that the state had improperly revoked some permits for reasons unrelated to one's fitness to carry a concealed handgun.
So what about experiences in other states? Not all states collect this information (primarily because they don't perceive any problem), but some do collect more detailed information than is available for Oklahoma and Indiana. The data clearly show that permit holders are extremely law-abiding. Some states have had these laws for as long as 60 years, and no permit holder has ever been convicted of manslaughter or murder. Consider the following facts, culled from reports throughout the country:
* Between 1987, when Florida's concealed-carry law took effect, and Jan. 31, 1999, 551,000 licenses were issued. Of those licenses, only 109 had been revoked because of firearms-related violations committed by license holders (less than two one-hundredths of 1 percent). While a precise breakdown is not available, a large majority of cases apparently resulted from people accidentally carrying a gun into a restricted area (like an airport). No one claims that these unintentional violations posed any harm.
* During 1996 and 1997, the first two years that Texas' concealed handgun law was in effect, 163,096 people were licensed. Five were arrested for "deadly conduct/discharge of a firearm" and another two for "deadly conduct/display of a firearm." But by July 1998, all seven individuals had been cleared and deemed to have acted in self-defense.
* Arizona between August 1994 (when its law went into effect) and Dec. 31, 1998, issued more than 63,000 permits. Only 50 permits were revoked for any type of legal violation - few involving a firearm violation.
* In Virginia as of the beginning of this year ('99), "not a single concealed-carry permit holder has committed a violent crime."
* After Nevada's first year, "Law enforcement officials throughout the state could not document one case of a fatality that resulted from irresponsible gun use by someone who obtained a permit under the new law."
* A spokesman for the Kentucky Chiefs of Police Association concluded, after the law had been in effect for about a year: "We haven't seen any cases where a permit holder has committed an offense with a firearm."
* In North Carolina, "Permit-holding gun owners have not had a single permit revoked as a result of use of a gun in a crime."
Concerns that permit holders would lose their tempers in the heat of the moment, like traffic accidents, have been unfounded. Only one time has a permit holder used a concealed handgun after a traffic accident, and that use was ruled as justifiable self-defense. Concerns about risks to police officers have also proven unfounded. No permit holder has ever killed a police officer, though there are police who have said that they would not be alive today if it hadn't been for a citizen with a permitted concealed handgun.
National surveys of police show they support concealed handgun laws by a 3-to-1 margin. The exemplary behavior of permit holders has even caused former opponents in law enforcement to change their positions. Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, provides a typical response: "I lobbied against the law in 1993 and 1995 because I thought it would lead to wholesale armed conflict. That hasn't happened. All the horror stories I thought would come to pass didn't happen. No bogeyman. I think it's worked out well, and that says good things about the citizens who have permits. I'm a convert."
If passed, Missouri's permitting rules would be among the strictest in the nation. Only one other state requires a longer training period, and the fee to obtain the permit will be in the top third.
The citizens in other states have heard all the potential horror stories that Missourians will hear before the April 6 vote. Yet since states started adopting these permit laws 60 years ago, no state has ever rescinded its law, and no state has made its law more restrictive. It is the criminals - not law-abiding citizens - who have the most to fear from citizens being able to defend themselves.
COMMENTARY: Do concealed guns deter crime?
The Kansas City Star (MO) Section: OPINION
March 20, 1999
BY JOHN R. LOTT JR.; Special to The Star
Obviously guns enable bad things to happen, but they also allow would-be victims to defend themselves. The crucial question becomes: What is the net effect? Do guns deter crime or encourage it? Are more lives saved than lost?
To gun-control proponents, the issue is straightforward: Murders result from unintentional fits of anger that are quickly regretted. Simply keeping a gun out of someone's reach will save a life. There is the concern that more guns will lead to more accidental deaths.
To those on the other side of the debate, the issue is one of deterrence. Citizens use guns to prevent crimes about five times more frequently than criminals use guns to commit crimes.
Police play an extremely important role in reducing crime, though they almost always arrive at the crime scene after the crime has been committed. When confronted by a criminal, passive behavior, particularly for women, is not the wisest course of action. Indeed, the probability of serious injury from a criminal confrontation is 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than for women resisting with a gun.
Despite its ready availability, anecdotal evidence alone cannot resolve this debate. To provide a more systematic answer, I recently analyzed the FBI's crime statistics for all U.S. counties by year from 1977 to 1996 as well as extensive cross-county information on accidental gun deaths and suicides.
The study examined states that adopted so-called ``objective'' or shall-issue concealed handgun laws, such as the proposed law on which Missourians will soon vote, Proposition B. Thirty-one states now have shall-issue laws, while another 12 permit citizens to carry guns if they can demonstrate a need to public officials.
The findings of the study were dramatic. The more people obtain permits over time, the more violent crime rates decline. For each additional year that these laws are in effect, murders declined by another 3 percent, rapes by 2 percent and robberies by 2 percent. These are the drops over and above the recent national declines in violent crime - and after the impacts of such things as changing arrest and conviction rates, demographics and
other gun control laws have been accounted for.
The reductions in violent crime are greatest in the most crime prone, most urban areas. Women, the elderly and blacks gained by far the most from this ability to protect themselves.
The benefits of concealed handguns are not limited only to those who carry them or use them in self-defense. The fact that these weapons are concealed keeps criminals uncertain as to whether potential victims will be able to defend themselves with lethal force.
With one of the longest training requirements and its high fees, Missouri's proposed law will be among the most restrictive in the nation. The evidence in other states with more lenient requirements indicates that those who go through the permitting process are extremely law-abiding.
Permits are revoked for any reason at only hundredths or thousandths of one percent and most of these revocations have nothing to do with improper use of a firearm. The typical experience mirrors Virginia, where not a single Virginia permit-holder has been involved in violent crime. Indeed, despite millions of people currently holding permits and some states having issued permits for as long as 60 years, not one permit holder has to date been convicted of manslaughter or murder.
Concerns that permit holders would shoot others after traffic accidents or angry-drivers-cut-off-in-traffic shootings have proven to be completely unfounded. Only one single permit holder has ever used a concealed handgun after a traffic accident and that case involved self-defense.
No permit holder has ever killed a police officer; instead permit holders have on occasion saved the lives of police officers who were being attacked by criminals. My research has found no evidence that concealed handgun laws caused accidental gun deaths or suicides to increase. To date, I have made my data available to academics at 37 universities.
Everyone who has tried has been able to replicate my findings, and only three have written pieces critical of my general approach. Although the vast majority of researchers concur that concealed handgun laws significantly deter crime, not even these three critics have argued that the laws increases crime.
Both sides in the gun control debate have their own anecdotal stories, and surely many hypothetical horror stories will be raised before this campaign is through. Fortunately these fears are easily disproved once one looks at the experience in other states. It is the criminals and not law-abiding citizens who should fear a law that allows citizens to defend themselves.
*John R. Lott, the John M. Olin Law and Economics fellow at the University of Chicago School of Law, is the author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws.
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