03 February 2009

Fables,Myths,and Tales VII

Allowing people to carry guns for protection will lead to more violence and injuries.

Anti-gun rhetoric is its most outlandish when the subject turns to right-to-carry laws, under which people obtain permits to carry firearms concealed for protection against criminals. For years, gun control supporters have tried to convince the public that the average person is neither smart enough, adept enough nor responsible enough to be trusted with firearms, especially where using firearms for protection is concerned.

In his book, More Guns, Less Crime,1 Prof. John R. Lott, Jr. provides the most comprehensive study of firearm laws ever conducted. With an economist's eye, Lott examined a large volume of data ranging from gun ownership polls to FBI crime rate data for each of the nation's 3,045 counties over an 18-year period. He included in his analysis many variables that might explain the level of crime--factors such as income, poverty, unemployment, population density, arrest rates, conviction rates and length of prison sentences.

With 54,000 observations and hundreds of variables available over the 1977 to 1994 period, Lott's research amounts to the largest data set that has ever been compiled for any study of crime, let alone for the study of gun control. And, unlike many gun control advocates who masquerade as researchers, Lott willingly made his complete data set available to any academic who requested it.

"Many factors influence crime," Lott writes, "with arrest and conviction rates being the most important. However, nondiscretionary concealed-handgun laws are also important, and they are the most cost-effective means of reducing crime."

Nondiscretionary, or "shall-issue" carry permit laws reduce violent crime for two reasons. They reduce the number of attempted crimes, because criminals can't tell which potential victims are armed and can defend themselves. Secondly, national crime victimization surveys show that victims who use firearms to defend themselves are statistically less likely to be injured. In short, carry laws deter crime, because they increase the criminal's risk of doing business.

Lott's research shows that states with the largest increases in gun ownership also have the largest decreases in violent crime. And, it is high-crime urban areas and neighborhoods with large minority populations that experience the greatest reductions in violent crime when law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed handguns.

Lott found "a strong negative relationship between the number of law-abiding citizens with permits and the crime rate--as more people obtain permits there is a greater decline in violent crime rates." Further, he found that the value of carry laws increases over time. "For each additional year that a concealed handgun law is in effect the murder rate declines by 3%, rape by 2% and robberies by over 2%," Lott writes.

"Murder rates decline when either more women or more men carry concealed handguns, but the effect is especially pronounced for women," Lott notes. "An additional woman carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for women by about three to four times more than an additional man carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for men."

While right-to-carry laws lead to fewer people being murdered (Lott finds an equal deterrent effect for murders committed with and without guns), the increased presence of concealed handguns "does not raise the number of accidental deaths or suicides from handguns."

The benefits of concealed handguns are not limited to those who carry them. Others "get a 'free ride' from the crime fighting efforts of their fellow citizens," Lott finds. And the benefits are "not limited to people who share the characteristics of those who carry the guns." The most obvious example of what Lott calls this "halo" effect, is "the drop in murders of children following the adoption of nondiscretionary laws. Arming older people not only may provide direct protection to these children, but also causes criminals to leave the area."

How compelling is John Lott's message? How threatening is his research to those who would disarm the American people? He devotes an entire chapter of his book to rebutting attacks leveled at his research and at him personally. He recalls how Susan Glick of the radical Violence Policy Center publicly denounced his research as "flawed" without having read the first word of it.

This type of unfounded and unethical attack unfortunately is not uncommon. Criminologist Gary Kleck explains why: "Battered by a decade of research contradicting the central factual premises underlying gun control, advocates have apparently decided to fight more exclusively on an emotional battlefield, where one terrorizes one's targets into submission rather than honestly persuading them with credible evidence."2

Law professor and firearms issue researcher David Kopel notes, "Whenever a state legislature first considers a concealed-carry bill, opponents typically warn of horrible consequences. Permit-holders will slaughter each other in traffic disputes, while would-be Rambos shoot bystanders in incompetent attempts to thwart crime. But within a year of passage, the issue usually drops off the news media's radar screen, while gun-control advocates in the legislature conclude that the law wasn't so bad after all."3

Thirty-two states now have right-to-carry laws. Half the U.S. population, including 60% of handgun owners, live in right-to-carry states. Twenty-two states have adopted right-to-carry since 1987. In each case, anti-gun activists and politicians predicted that allowing law-abiding people to carry firearms would result in more violence. Typical of this sort of propaganda, Florida State Rep. Michael Friedman said, "We'll have calamity and carnage, the body count will go up and we'll see more and more people trying to act like supercops."4 Similarly, Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro said, "This could set us back 100 years to the time of the Wild West."5 But since Florida adopted right-to-carry in 1987, its murder rate has decreased 51%, while nationwide the murder rate has decreased 33%.6 Less than two one-hundredths of 1% of Florida carry licenses have been revoked because of firearm crimes committed by licensees, according to the Florida Dept. of State.

Before Gov. George W. Bush was able to sign Texas' carry law, predictions of a return to the Wild West were also made. But honest public servants who initially opposed the law have stepped forth to admit they were wrong. John B. Holmes, Harris County's district attorney, said that he thought the legislation presented "a clear and present danger to law-abiding citizens by placing more handguns on our streets. Boy was I wrong. Our experience in Harris County, and indeed statewide, has proven my initial fears absolutely groundless." And this from Glen White, president of the Dallas Police Association: "All the horror stories I thought would come to pass didn't happen. . . . I think it's worked out well, and that says good things about the citizens who have permits. I'm a convert."7

Contrary to the picture painted by anti-gun groups, evidence supporting the value of right-to-carry laws and the high standard of conduct among persons who carry firearms lawfully is overwhelming and continues to mount.


1. John R. Lott, Jr., More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 50-96.

2. Gary Kleck, "Reasons for Skepticism on the Results from a New Poll on: The Incidence of Gun Violence Among Young People," The Public Perspective, Sept./Oct. 1993.

3. David Kopel, "The Untold Triumph of Concealed-Carry Permits," Policy Review, July-August 1996, p. 9.

4. Jim Myers, "Critics, Police Fear 'Calamity and Carnage'" USA Today, Oct. 1, 1997.

5. Ibid.

6. FBI.

7. H. Sterling Burnett, "Concealed Handgun Laws Help Fight Crime," Human Events, June 30, 2000, p. 15.

Remember: OPPOSE H.R. 45!!!

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