Concealed Carry Deters Crime

By Michael Fumento

August 25, 1996
Copyright 1996 Michael Fumento

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A new report on the impact of laws allowing persons to carry concealed guns has gun control advocates shooting wildly and missing their target by a mile.

The report, by law school professor John Lott and economist John Mustard, both of the University of Chicago, concluded "allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons deters violent crimes and it appears to produce no increase in accidental deaths. If those states that did not have right-to-carry concealed gun provisions had adopted them in 1992, approximately 1,570 murders; 4,177 rapes; and more than 60,000 aggravated assaults would have been avoided yearly."

Think of it; that’s more murders than the combined total of 21 states last year. That’s more than 4,000 women last year alone who were violently sexually assaulted. In percentage terms, the authors found that when state concealed handgun laws went into effect in a county, murders fell by 8.5 percent, and rapes and aggravated assaults fell by 5 percent and 7 percent, respectively. (Thirty-one states now have such laws).

Lott and Mustard, however, probably feel like they’ve been assaulted after the smearing they received in much of the press. For example, the director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, Dan Kotowski, blasted the study as biased because it was funded by the Olin Corp., which owns Winchester Inc., a firearms manufacturer. An Associated Press (AP) story and that of individual newspapers aired the Kotowski allegations as fact, but they were wrong.

Lott, as the John M. Olin Law and Economics Fellow at Chicago, is paid by the Olin Foundation, which funds guest academic positions throughout the country. It does not choose the scholars who fill these slots; the institutions do. Nor does it choose their research projects. John Olin did make money in firearms, but he died in 1982, endowing the foundation that bears his name. Since then there has been no connection between the Olin Corp. and the Olin Foundation.

The AP has issued a retraction of the allegations. On the other hand, Kotowski gets all his money from advocating handgun control.

Meanwhile, Douglas Weil — who as research director at the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence also makes all his money from advocating handgun laws — claimed the Chicago study "goes against well-established evidence," citing a University of Maryland report last year that claimed to show that concealed weapons laws cause homicides to go up.

Really? The Chicago report looked at the entire nation over the last 16 years for which data were available. The authors of the University of Maryland study, conversely, picked out just five counties to report on out of the hundreds it could have chosen. They didn’t even use the same sample period for the cities, but the periods they did choose were just a few years each.

So somehow a study that uses specially picked cities and specially picked periods of time is better than one covering the whole nation over a decade and a half. It makes sense to the advocates of gun control.

The nation’s top law enforcement official also weighed in. Asked about the Chicago report at a press conference, Attorney General Janet Reno avoided giving direct comment, saying she hadn’t yet read it. But Reno, the former chief state prosecutor in Florida’s Dade County, added her impression that Florida’s concealed weapons law "didn’t seem to be effective."

Oh no? When that law was passed in 1987, Florida had the nation’s highest murder rate and it was going up. Immediately it began dropping steadily year by year, falling almost 30 percent by 1994 and putting Florida under the national average in homicides. Of more than 320,000 licenses issued between the time the law passed and the end of January of this year, only 58 have been revoked because the owner committed a crime.

So why does Reno think the law wasn’t effective? Maybe it has something to do with the view she stated to a B’nai B’rith gathering in Fort Lauderdale in 1991 that, "The most effective means of fighting crime in the United States is to outlaw the possession of any type of firearm by the civilian populace."

Naturally, some gun control advocates would rather avoid the need to use data at all. "It defies common sense," said Kotowski at his press conference, "to think that putting more guns on the streets is going to make us safer."

Actually it makes perfect sense. If a criminal thinks you might be packing something more powerful than a tiny canister of pepper spray, he might be just a bit more hesitant to rape, rob or kill you. That’s common sense, and the Chicago study simply backs it up.

Common sense also suggests that if this were happening, criminals might compensate somewhat by committing more property crimes. And the Chicago study found just that. Criminals respond "to the threat of being shot" by substituting "less risky crimes," state the Chicago authors. One example is burglaries in which the criminal has "cased" the house to make sure no one will be home.

That seems a small price to pay. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have my home or car broken into than be smashed over the head for my wallet or have my girlfriend raped. I’ll bet even most handgun-control advocates feel the same way.


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on crime and on legislation.