Packing Private Heat Quashes Crime

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

Imagine a crime fighting policy which, by itself, substantially reduces the incidences of murder, rape and assault. A policy which enlists citizens in the fight against violent crime - empowering them to take back the streets and live in less fear. Now imagine that this policy is cheaper to implement than any other measurably effective crime fighting tool. Indeed, the citizens who participate in this crime fighting effort, voluntarily commit substantial amounts of resources and time for equipment and training.

The good news is that you don't have to "imagine" this policy, because it exists in many jurisdictions. Unfortunately, despite its proven effectiveness, some people are fighting hard against efforts to expand this initiative. This effective, but controversial, crime fighting tool is allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns.

Firearms are used by law-abiding citizens about five times more often to prevent crimes than to commit them. Thus, it should not be surprising that the evidence shows that when a state allows its citizens to exercise their right to carry a concealed firearm, crime rates decline.

More than 30 states have "right-to-carry" laws. Under these laws, the state establishes certain objective criteria that a person must satisfy before he is allowed to carry a concealed handgun. Most states require training courses for concealed carry permits that take the student througha wide range of issues, including: hours of conflict resolution, a review of and final test covering the laws of self-defense and the consequences of the misuse of deadly force. And a stringent gun safety and shooting accuracy test which applicants must pass each time they renew their permit. The results of these policies have been documented by Yale's Dr. John Lott, among others. Using data from all 3,054 U.S. counties Lott found that right-to-carry laws reduce murder by 8.5 percent, rape by 5 percent and severe assault by 7 percent. Had right-to-carry prevailed throughout the country, there would have been 1,600 fewer murders, 4,200 fewer rapes and 60,000 fewer severe assaults.

Nor has allowing more law abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms resulted in increased accidental shootings or "heat-of-the-moment" killings. Indeed, while firearm ownership in the U.S. is at an all time high, the firearm accident rate is lower than it has ever been since 1903 when the government first began compiling such data. And FBI data shows that killings as a result of arguments is declining as a share of all homicides.

And concealed carry permittees have proven themselves quite law abiding compared to the general population. For instance, between 1987 and 1995, Florida had issued nearly 300,000 permits, but only 19 were revoked because the permit holder had committed a crime. That's one crime per 14,000 permit holders during a nine-year period - ten thousand times lower than the criminal arrest rate of one per 14 Americans each year. And in Texas, where more than 215,000 concealed carry licenses have been issued, licensees were 5.7 times less likely to be arrested for violent offenses than the general public and 14 times less likely to be arrested for non-violent offenses than the general public.

Those who argue against right-to-carry laws have none of the facts on their side. As John Russi, director of Florida's licensing division said, "They said there would be gun fights and confrontations in the streets. As far as I can determine, there has been no negative impact." Keeping honest, law-abiding people unarmed and at the mercy of armed and violent criminals was never a good idea.