Article published Thursday, July 30, 2009, at Jurist.

Opposition to citizens crossing state lines with concealed guns lacks factual basis

By John R. Lott, Jr.

By a 58 to 39 majority, the US Senate voted last week to let concealed handgun permit holders carry handguns across state lines. Yet, it was two votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. The legislation sponsored by Senator John Thune (R, SD) would have allowed reciprocity in permitting, as anybody would still be required to obey the laws of the states that they travel in. This is the same way driver's licenses work.

The legislation before the senate doesn't really break new ground. Most states already recognize permits from other states: 35 states recognize Michigan's permits, 34 states for Missouri and Tennessee, 33 for Utah, 32 for Arizona and Florida, 31 for Texas, 28 for Colorado, 26 for Ohio, 25 for Montana, 24 for Pennsylvania, and so on. States that allow citizens to carry concealed handguns have been slowly moving towards creating permits that are recognized in most of the country on their own. Despite this, there are still a number of people whose ability to protect themselves when they travel is limited by a patchwork set of rules across states.

Gun control advocates were predicting the worst from Thune's amendment. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D, NJ) warned it is an "attempt by the gun lobby to put its radical agenda ahead of safety and security in our communities." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY) calls it a "harmful measure" that will put the public at risk. Senator Chuck Schumer (D, NY) said: "It could reverse the dramatic success we've had in reducing crime in most all parts of America."

If those claims sound familiar, they should. Opponents of concealed-handgun laws gave similar warnings about permit holders losing their tempers and blood in the streets when state after state originally passed right-to-carry laws. Obviously that never happened. We now have extensive experience with concealed-handgun permit holders. In 2007, about 5 million Americans were permitted to carry concealed handguns across the 48 states that let citizens carry. 39 of these states have relatively liberal right-to-carry laws that let people get permits once they pass a criminal background check, pay a fee, and in many states receive training. Take Florida, for example. Between Oct. 1, 1987, and June 30, 2009, Florida issued permits to 1,540,712 people, many of whom renewed their permits multiple times. Only 167 had their permits revoked for a firearms-related violation - about 0.01 percent.

The same pattern occurs in state after state. Permit holders lose their permits at hundredths or thousands of one percent for any type of gun related violations, and even then they are usually for relatively trivial offenses. And there is no evidence that these reciprocity agreements have caused any problems. Gun control groups such as the Violence Policy Center and the Brady Campaign have put out reports last week that attempted to show how dangerous permit holders are. But they made several serious mistakes: they usually included arrests and not convictions and they made mistakes on whether the people have concealed handgun permits. Even in the few cases where they correctly identified problems, they never discussed the rate that permit holders violate the law. If a permit holder fires a gun defensively and kills or wounds an attacker, even if the shooting was completely justified, they will almost always be arrested. A police officer who arrives on the scene simply can't be sure what happened until an investigation is completed. But these justified shootings are exactly why concealed handgun permits are allowed and including them as a cost of concealed handgun laws has the entire process backwards.

Even though the adoption of right-to-carry laws was initially highly controversial in some states, the laws were so successful that no state has ever rescinded one. Indeed, no state has even held a legislative hearing to consider rescinding concealed-carry. Everyone wants to keep guns away from criminals. The problem is that law-abiding citizens are the ones most likely to obey the gun control laws, leaving them disarmed and vulnerable and making it easier for criminals to commit crime. Police are extremely important in deterring crime - according to my research, the most important factor. But the police also understand that they almost always arrive after the crime has been committed. There is a lot of refereed academic research on the impact that right-to-carry laws across the country have on crime rates. While a large majority of the refereed studies by economists and criminologists find that crime rate fall after these laws are adopted and some claim to find no effect, no such studies find a bad effect on crime rates, suicides or accidental deaths.

Here is a prediction. Once Thune's amendment is passed, the original ruckus over the fears about allowing people to travel with guns, just like passing concealed handgun laws, will soon be forgotten.

*John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics.

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