Published May 4, 2003, in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Gun control advocates' credibility on line
By John R. Lott Jr.
Gun control advocates should fear the new concealed handgun law, but not for the reason that most people think. The law allows trained, law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns for their protection. But despite claims that it is "radical" and "is really a conceal and kill bill," here is a prediction: A year from now Minnesota's newspapers will report that all the horror stories about letting citizens carry concealed handguns were wrong. The real loser will be gun control advocates' credibility.
My prediction does not really involve going out on a limb. One needs only look at the other 32 states with similar laws where we have had enough time to see what happens. A year after the law goes into effect, newspaper articles in state after state announce that the supposed fears never materialized. It is particularly hard to see why these worries are taken seriously in Minnesota, some of whose neighbors have right-to-carry laws.
Two of these states, North and South Dakota, have had among the very least restrictive regulations in the country for decades.
Michigan, the most recent nearby state to adopt a right-to-carry law, adopted it in 2001. Last year newspapers such as the Detroit News regularly reported that: "Such self-defense has not yet resulted in any kind of wave of new gun violence among those with fresh CCW permits, several law enforcement officials throughout Metro Detroit agreed."
And consider the two largest states with right-to-carry laws, Florida and Texas. During the 15 years after Florida's concealed-carry law took effect in October 1987, about 800,000 licenses were issued. Only 143 of these (two-hundredths of 1 percent) were revoked due to firearms-related violations.
But even this statistic overstates the risks, as almost all of these cases apparently resulted from people accidentally carrying a gun into a restricted area, such as an airport. No one claims that these unintentional violations posed any harm. In general, permit-holders were model law-abiders. Even off-duty police officers in Florida were convicted of violent crimes at a higher rate than permit-holders.
The experience in Texas was similar. From 1996 through 1999, the first four years that Texas' concealed handgun law was in effect, 215,000 people were licensed. Permit holders turned out to be law-abiding, with licensees convicted of a crime only 6 percent as often as other adult Texans.
Data for other states are also available, and paint a similar picture. Thus, it is not surprising that no state with a right-to-carry law has repealed it.
While leaders of Minnesota's police organizations oppose the law, national surveys show the police support concealed handgun laws by a 3-1 margin. Many former strong opponents to right-to-carry laws have changed their positions after the laws have been in effect for a couple of years.
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. . . . I think it's worked out well, and that says good things about the citizens who have permits. I'm a convert."
One particular fear that some police have is that right-to-carry laws would actually make their jobs more dangerous by making it more likely that they would be shot. Yet, research has shown that the laws make police safer. Professor David Mustard at the University of Georgia found that right-to-carry laws reduced the rate that officers were killed by about 2 percent per year for each additional year that the laws were in effect.
Other research, by David Olson at Loyola University and Michael Maltz at the University of Illinois, found that when law-abiding citizens carried concealed handguns, criminals were much less likely to carry guns. In fact, they found gun murders fell by 20 percent. Fewer criminals carrying guns makes the jobs of police less dangerous. By contrast, while law-abiding permit holders have come to the aid of police, they have never killed a police officer.
A year after the right-to-carry law is enacted, Minnesotans will wonder what all the fuss was about. Those declaring that Minnesotans' safety is endangered will lose credibility once people see that it is criminals and not law-abiding citizens who have the most to fear from Minnesotans' being able to defend themselves.
John R. Lott Jr. is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the just-released book "The Bias Against Guns."