How many people are licensed to carry concealed guns in your state? The Crime Prevention Research Center has released a paper with the numbers, finding that the number of permit holders has risen 15.4 percent in the last year alone.
We sat down with the organization's president, More Guns, Less Crime author John Lott, to discuss the findings. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you think there has been such a surge in permit holders since Obama's election, and especially over the last year?
There was an increase during his election, but as you said, there's been an accelerated change over the last couple years, and I think if you look at the polls you see one reason for that. Gallup and others have shown that Americans believe owning a gun is important for their safety. By larger percentages, the polls show that people believe having a gun makes them safer as opposed to any other possible assets they may have. And where we've seen the biggest growth in permits is among the groups that have had the biggest changes in their views on guns — blacks and women.
Why do you think that's happening with women and minorities?
The growth in women having permits is twice what it is for men. There are still many more men who have permits, but now 25 percent of permit holders are women, and their growth rate is twice what it is for men. For blacks and other minorities, there is some evidence that they are increasing about twice the rate of whites.
Why? Again, I think the polls tell us a lot, but the deeper question here is, Why is it that their views are changing so much in the polls? My own belief is that, if you look at the evidence, women and blacks, particularly poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas, are the people who benefit the most from owning guns. I think that message is just starting to get out in the last few years. For blacks, if you look at Police Chief James Craig in Detroit or Sheriff David Clark in Milwaukee, these are just examples of leading black law enforcement saying, "Look, we can't protect you, we're having budget cuts. We're having to cut the police forces that we have, and they've been strongly recommending that people in the heavily black areas that they represent have to be able to depend upon themselves for safety."
My research over the years has convinced me of two things. One is that the people most likely to be victims of violent crime benefit the most from having a gun to protect themselves, and the other is that police are extremely important in reducing crime. I think police are the single most important factor, but if you look at interviews and surveys of police, you find that they understand themselves that they virtually always arrive on the crime scene after the crimes occurred, and that raises the question about what people should do when they have to confront a criminal by themselves. By far, the safest course of action is for people to have a gun
The second group of people who benefit the most from having a gun are people who are relatively weaker physically — women and the elderly. You're usually talking about young males doing the attack. They are the criminals. And when you're talking about a young male attacking a female victim, versus a young male attacking a male, there is a lot bigger strength differential between the man and the woman, and so the presence of a gun represents a much bigger relative change in a woman's ability to go and defend herself. We've seen much greater reductions in crime when additional women carry concealed handguns than we've seen for men.
How does this fit in with other research about how guns affect crime rates?
The appendix we have in the back of the report shows several dozen studies we've done on the relationship between concealed handguns and crime, and this fits in very well. We've seen a huge range in the research that's been done, but this paper simply shows that the states with the biggest increases in the percentage of the population with permits have seen the biggest drop in murder rates and crime.
Other people have found that. But other research has shown the effects very systematically in regards to the type of crime — violent crime, for example, falls relative to property crime for the simple reason that violent crime falls in direct contact between the victim and the criminal, so the presence of a gun represents a change there in people's ability to resist an attack. Whereas it's not going to affect property crime directly, because there's no contact between the victim and the criminal in that case.
You have research that shows mass public shootings fall more than murders do when you allow concealed carry. The reason for that is also pretty simple. When you have 5 percent of the adult population with permits, that represents some deterrence to the criminal who's doing the attack. But let's say you have a restaurant that has 100 adults in it. You have a 5 percent chance that any one adult has a concealed handgun in the room. The probability that at least someone in that room will have one is essentially 100 percent. What you find in all this research is that when the probability of the people who go and defend themselves increases, you see a greater deterrence.
There's other evidence that looks at counties in the states that pass right-to-carry; they see a drop in their violent-crime rates right when the law goes into effect. You see a small increase in violent-crime rates in the adjacent towns across the border where there are no right-to-carry laws.
So, when you allow people to defend themselves, some criminals stop committing crimes. Some criminals switch into other types of crimes to commit. Some move out of the area to other areas where they don't have to worry about being able to defend themselves.