Freedomnomics

Article published Monday, February 16, 2015, at Fox News.

Let’s not be so quick to believe gun-control rhetoric

By John R. Lott, Jr.

People walking the streets with guns pose a danger to others, right? With 12 million Americans across all 50 states now having concealed handgun permits, one would think that this question would have been settled one way or another.

In fact, contrary to the rhetoric by gun-control organizations, permit holders almost never use their guns to commit violent crimes.

Last Wednesday, The New York Times claimed “there should be no disputing” a new report, which claims there were 722 gun deaths nationwide from May 2007 to February 2015 that were not self-defense. The Times asserts: “The full death toll attributable to concealed carry is undoubtedly larger.”

The Times was too quick to trust the Violence Policy Center report. A cursory Google search would have shown the Violence Policy Center has a history of making up numbers.

The VPC keeps a record of permit holder abuses in each state. Take the claimed worst state, Michigan. The VPC cites state police and media reports indicating that permit holders committed 277 suicides or murders during the period from 2007 through 2015 (217 suicides and 60 murders). If accurate, a 38 percent share of all 722 deaths nationwide that the VPC attributed to permitted concealed handguns occurred in Michigan.

But suicides are not in any meaningful way linked to the act of carrying a permitted concealed handgun outside of one’s home. The Michigan State Police reports it does not collect information on how the suicides were committed, just that permit holders committed suicide.

Interestingly, the 2013 suicide rate among Michigan permit holders (6.2 per 100,000 permit holders) is lower than the rate among the general adult population (16.59). Typically, suicides -- with or without guns -- take place at home. So, again, what do these numbers have to do with the concealed-carry debate?

The VPC’s murder and manslaughter statistics are just as problematic. This is how the Michigan State Police reports the number of pending cases and convictions:

2007–08: Pending 5, Convicted 0

2008–09: Pending 0, Convicted 1

2009–10: Pending 1, Convicted 2

2010–11: Pending 5, Convicted 4

2011–12: Pending 3, Convicted 4

2012-13: Pending 4, Convicted 1

Total: Pending 18, Convicted 12

The VPC totals differed only slightly: 19 pending cases and 13 convictions. But the problems arise in what the VPC includes in its count.

The Violence Policy Center makes what is perhaps its worst mistake by adding the “pending” and “conviction” numbers together. Convictions are obviously what should be counted. After all, some of the “pending” cases represent legitimate self-defense cases. Adding them more than doubles the supposed total number of murders.

In addition, since murder cases often take years before going to trial, some of the homicides may have occurred well before 2007. If a case is pending for three years, the VPC counts that as three separate murders. In addition, the Michigan State Police report doesn't provide information on how each of the murders was committed. Gun murders, therefore, make up only a portion of this total.

There is even more numerical nonsense. The VPC then adds in 26 cases that were reported in newspapers or other media outlets over the same years. However, either the Michigan State Police had already counted those cases in the official statistics, or the cases were never legally pursued.

All in all, the VPC has managed to at least triple-count the true number of cases of permit holders killing people. Furthermore, the vast majority of these killings were suicides, or legitimate self-defense shootings.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that the Violence Policy Center was accurate in claiming concealed-handgun permits were responsible for 722 deaths over almost eight years. It puts things in context when one realizes there are currently more than 12 million concealed-handgun permits in the U.S.

An annual death toll of 93 would mean that, each year, 0.00078 percent of concealed-carry permit holders were responsible for a shooting death. Removing suicides from the total reduces the rate to 0.00054 percent.

The New York Times is presumably showing its biases by citing the VPC report. One would hope, however, that the Times had spent a few minutes glancing at the report. The errors are so massive that even a cursory examination would have raised serious questions.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the recently released “At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?”

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