The Rise of Concealed Carry
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.
Your paper says that permit holders are less likely to commit crimes than police officers. What was your reaction to that finding?
Well, it was somewhat surprising. Police are rarely convicted of misdemeanors or violent felonies, and so it was surprising to find permit holders were so incredibly law abiding. I don't think there is any group in the U.S. population that's as law-abiding as permit holders are. If somebody is going to go up and commit a crime, they aren't going to bother going through the process of getting a concealed handgun permit. I think that's pretty clear.
Do states keep good records of which permit holders commit crimes?
I think they generally do keep good records. But if you look across the states, the results are very uniform. In all the states you find that permit holders are extremely law abiding. People can go and argue that pretty much all of the states are making big errors in terms of identifying whether or not permit holders are committing crimes, but some states, like Kentucky for example, run a background check on permit holders every month. If somebody did something wrong somewhere in the country and developed a criminal history, that would catch up with them on that.
Should states improve their permitting processes? If so, how?
The big thing to me is the cost of getting a permit. You can look at two neighboring states — Illinois and Indiana. In Indiana if you go to get a permit, it costs $45. In Illinois, if you go through the whole process, you're basically talking about something around $450. The problem with those high fees is that the people who benefit from permits the most are basically poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas who are victims of crimes. If the fee is $450, plus the training cost, who do you think is going to obtain a permit? This isn't even including the cost of the gun. Plus you have other fees in Illinois; you also have to get the license to own a gun. It's those types of costs that make it so poor people are priced out of the ability to go and defend themselves.
I think one of the big pushes we've seen with gun control over the last few years is additional fees and taxes on gun ownership, and unfortunately, the very people it disarms are people who need guns. It doesn't make much sense to me to go and have a big fee for someone.
I can understand that states wanted to raise revenue in all different sorts of ways, but why is this the way you want to go and raise revenue? You reduce the number of permitted concealed handguns out there, and you also change the mix of people who have permits — and it's the probability that someone's going to be able to defend themselves that deters criminals. If you want it to be white male suburban types that have permits for concealed handguns, that's fine, but that's not where the crime is. I'm not saying there's not some benefits for them carrying, but we're making it so the most vulnerable people in our society are being priced out of the ability to defend themselves.That's the big concern I have in terms of trying to fix the permit system.
The big change you're seeing now is, we have ten states where you don't bear any cost to be able to carry a concealed handgun. Those are the so-called "constitutional carry" states. And you look at Texas, a couple years ago, they reduced the training requirements from ten hours to five hours, and you can see the explosion in concealed-handgun permits in minorities by that point. It was just massive, and I think a lot of that has to do with reduction in cost.
Courtney Such is a RealClearPolitics intern.