Article published Thursday, February 12, 2015, at Austin American-Statesman.

Lott: Open carry is not about enhancing public safety

By John R. Lott, Jr.

With well over 700,000 concealed handgun permit holders in Texas, there is a good chance that someone next you in a grocery store or restaurant is carrying a concealed handgun. But some are only satisfied if others actually know that they are carrying. They think that by openly carrying guns they can make others comfortable with guns. They want to make a statement.

Texas lawmakers are now wrestling with the questions of campus carry and open carry. They couldn’t face a clearer choice between enhancing safety or making political statements.

Open carry advocates carry rifles because they can’t legally openly carry handguns. While no problems have occurred, simply handling a rifle as opposed to keeping a handgun in a holster, raises the risk that something might go wrong.

Open carry advocates have not been the best at public relations and they have scared some people. Much has been made of supposed gun bans by Starbucks, Jack in the Box, Chipotle, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, Chili’s and Sonic’s supposedly banning guns. In fact, these companies merely “respectfully request” that customers not openly carry guns. Passing an open carry law where proponents carried handguns, instead of rifles, would be less threatening and thus likely make it less of a PR issue.

Still, there is a more basic problem with open carry – it isn’t as effective in protecting people.

Criminals and terrorists can strike anywhere and at any time, that gives them a huge strategic advantage. When an attacker sees someone openly carrying a gun, they can either attack that person or wait for a more opportune moment. Alternatively, they can select another target.

Concealed carry makes attacks riskier. A killer can’t attack an auditorium in Texas without facing near-certain resistance. And, of course, an attacker has no idea who might be packing heat.

Mass public shooters openly admit to targeting gun-free zones. Elliot Rodger, who killed three people in Santa Barbara, California, explained his choice last June. In his 141-page “Manifesto,” Rodger ruled out targets where his killing spree was likely to be cut short.

Justin Bourque thought along similar lines that same June. He killed three people in Moncton, Canada. Prior to the shooting, Bourque took to Facebook to make fun of gun bans. He posted pictures of defenseless victims explaining to gunmen that they weren’t allowed to be carrying firearms.

Or take the Aurora, Colorado massacre. The killer lived within a twenty-minute drive of seven movie theaters showing “The Dark Knight” premier. Instead of choosing the largest theater or the one nearest to his home, he picked the only theater that posted signs banning permitted concealed handguns.

Since at least 1950, all but two of the mass public shooting in the US (and every single in Europe) has occurred in gun-free zones.

PoliceOne, the largest private organization of police officers in the US, recently asked its 450,000 members: “Considering the particulars of recent tragedies like Newtown and Aurora, what level of impact do you think a legally-armed citizen could have made?” 80% said: “Casualties would likely have been reduced.”

In the US, over 12 million American civilians are licensed to carry concealed handguns. Clearly, these Americans save lives. In the Oklahoma beheading case this past September, permit holder Mark Vaughan stepped in before a second victim could be beheaded.

Opponents of concealed carry on college campuses worry about irresponsible young people misusing their guns. But this concern has no statistical basis. A study this past year by the Crime Prevention Research Center found that college-age permit holders in Texas and Michigan (two states which break down revocation data by age) are at least as responsible as older permit holders.

Open carry isn’t bad, but concealed carry is better. There are more important changes to be made. At $140, Texas has one of the highest permit fees in the US. Lower fees would increase the number of people who can protect others. It would especially help those who are most likely to be victims of violent crime — poor blacks living in high-crime urban areas.

If safety is the goal, let’s eliminate gun-free zones or lower permit fees. Open carry may make a political statement, but is that really the top priority?

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?”

Home (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

Academic papers:

Social Science Research Network

Book Reviews:

For a list of book reviews on The Bias Against Guns, click here.

List of my Op-eds

Posts by topic

Appalachian law school attack

Baghdad murder rate

Arming Pilots

Fraudulent website pretending to be run by me

The Merced Pitchfork Killings and Vin Suprynowicz's quote

Ayres and Donohue

Stanford Law Review

Mother Jones article


Craig Newmark

Eric Rasmusen

William Sjostrom

Dr. T's

Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper