Posted on Sat, Jul. 12, 2003, in The Kansas City Star

Right to carry would disprove horror stories

By John R. Lott Jr.

Gov. Bob Holden finally vetoed the right-to-carry legislation last week, expressing fears about the risks the law poses for police and children.

With more than 70 percent of the Missouri House and Senate already voting for the bill, the expected veto override battle appears to be coming down to a single vote in the Senate.

Gun control advocates such as Holden are right to fear the right-to-carry bill's passage, but not for the reason that most people think. Despite panicked claims that innocent people will be killed and there will be shootouts in the streets, here is a prediction: A year after enactment Missouri'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. The bill allows trained, law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns for their protection, and Missouri's law will be the most restrictive right-to-carry law in the nation.

One needs only to look at the other 32 states with right-to-carry 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 Missouri, four of whose neighbors have right-to-carry laws.

Michigan, the most recent state to have a right-to-carry law in effect for at least a year, 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...permits, several law enforcement officials throughout Metro Detroit agreed."

And consider the two largest states with right-to-carry laws, Florida and Texas. In 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 because of 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.

One particular fear raised by Holden is that right-to-carry laws would actually make police officers' 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 year that the laws were in effect. Several studies find that as law-abiding citizens are allowed to defend themselves, criminals are much less likely to carry guns. Fewer criminals carrying guns makes the jobs of police less dangerous.

While Missouri's police organizations are generally neutral, national surveys show the police support concealed handgun laws by a 3-1 majority. Many former strong opponents to right-to-carry laws across the country 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."

When he vetoed the right-to-carry bill, Holden also claimed that right-to-carry laws would increase accidental shootings, but there is not one academic study that finds that to be true. For violent crime, refereed academic studies range from showing that right-to-carry laws at worst have little or no benefit to most research finding large reductions that increase as more permits are issued.

A year after the right-to-carry law is enacted, Missourians will wonder what all the fuss was about. Those declaring that Missourians' 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 Missourians' 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.

Right to carry would disprove horror stories
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