Freedomnomics

Article published Saturday, November 28, 2015, at Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

America could use more concealed carry gun permit holders

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Since the terrorist attacks in Paris, such far-away places as Pennsylvania have experienced a surge in applications for concealed handgun permits.

Permit requests have at least doubled in some large counties, including Allegheny. Pennsylvania has more than 1 million permit holders — 10.6 percent of the adult population — so the undoubtedly short-lived surge won't dramatically change the number of permit holders, but an increase still will make Pennsylvanians safer.

Police tend to support an increase in permit holders. “What would help most in preventing large-scale shootings in public?” PoliceOne asked its 450,000 American officer members in 2013. The most common answer: “more permissive concealed carry policies for civilians.”

Eighty percent of the surveyed officers believed allowing permitted concealed handguns would reduce the number of victims of mass public shootings.

Israel learned that lesson the hard way. In its first decades of existence, Israel responded to attacks by increasing the number of soldiers and armed police on the streets. Mass killers, however, can target the officers first or pick a target that isn't guarded. No matter how much money Israel spent, all the terrorists needed was a little patience.

In 1972, Israel started letting civilians carry licensed firearms. That has complicated things for terrorists — they can't know for sure whether they have found an easy target.

Just because there are no police or army uniforms present does not mean that people can't fight back.

Politicians and national police officials frequently remind Israelis to carry their guns when they are out in public.

Even in Europe, diverse groups of people are beginning to recognize the value of concealed carry.

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, leading European rabbi Menachem Margolin called for European Jews to be able to carry handguns. But that isn't going to happen in countries that won't even allow off-duty police officers to carry guns.

In the most recent attacks, Parisians were close enough to take videos of the terrorists as they walked within yards of them, but they were powerless to stop them. France's ban on carrying guns in public only disarmed law-abiding citizens, as the terrorists clearly were not concerned about guns laws. The eight were armed with AK-47s and explosive suicide belts. Obviously, all of that was illegal.

In the United States, more than 13 million Americans are licensed to carry concealed handguns. If not for permit holders, you would have heard of dozens more mass public shootings.

Some people are concerned that permit holders will use their weapons to threaten others. Data, however, shows that permit holders are extremely law-abiding. Their permits are revoked at a rate of just tenths of a percentage point. Very few revocations are a result of firearms violations — those are in the thousandths of a percentage point. Police are convicted of firearms violations at a higher rate.

Some fear permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders, or arriving police will shoot permit holders. But there has never been such a case.

The only problem with permit holders is that Americans could use many more of them.

Like Israel, we should encourage people to carry when they go out in public. This is especially true when there is a specific threat to national security.

Police and intelligence operations are critically important, but an effective backup plan is needed. We know that armed self-defense saves lives.

• Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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