Why I Support Concealed-Carry

Even though this will make you mad, I’m going to go there anyway.

No, I have not gone over to the dark side.  Relax.  I’m not going to start spouting insane GOP talking points.  I have not become an Austrian economist or a frothing libertarian.

But what I am, in my heart, is a scientist.  I believe in data and going where the data lead.  In the case of concealed-carry, I am merely reacting to the available data on the question and I find reasonably good evidence that there may be value in the law, or, at least no additional harm from the law.  I hope you will come with me on this brief review of the epidemiological and criminological research with an open mind.

The data on concealed carry are mixed, but perhaps the most comprehensive review of the studies comes from a 2003 book published by The Brookings Institution entitled Evaluating Gun Policy: Effects on Crime and Violence.  Chapter 8, The Impact of Concealed-Carry Laws (pdf) addresses the question head-on.

Those interested in a detailed look at the impact of concealed-carry should take the time to read the entire chapter, especially if they’re interested in an up-close-and-personal look  at an abstract statistical debate between experts.  I’m not going to dive into much detail here, just summarize their summaries and show you a chart which, to me, is fairly convincing and demonstrate that concealed-carry may be a good thing (or at least not a horrible thing).

The chapter is divided into three parts.  Part 1 presents a statistical review of past literature which finds that concealed-carry is harmful.  The second part is a response from the authors of the original study. The third part is a methodological and statistical review which is, quite frankly, over my head.  Having read the chapter, and looked at the research, it’s my conclusion that the data tip the scales in favor of concealed-carry or, in a worst-case interpretation of the results, say that concealed-carry does no harm.

The evidence is reasonably convincing (to me) that concealed-carry laws likely reduce crime rates.  I know that seems counter-intuitive, and it pains me to admit that the NRA might be right on this (or about anything, for that matter), but the data reveal a pattern of decreasing criminality following the passage of concealed-carry laws in 33 states.  If we look at the impact of the entire period under study, from 1979 – 1997, we see the following result:

What you see here is a trend that, over time, after the concealed-carry law is passed, the incidents of murder and rape fall off dramatically as do assault an robbery decrease sometime later.  There are several explanations posited for this, most of which rely on the fear of criminals from being shot by armed citizens.  They likely shift their criminality to areas that are non-confrontational or are effectively deterred.

If you add to this the question of how much violent crime is added to a community by the holders of concealed-carry permits, you’ll find that these numbers are quite low.  There is little evidence to support the theory that permit holders commit crimes violent crimes.  In fact, their criminality is lower than the general population.

Finally, it is important to recognize that this effect is only seen in densely populated urban areas where crime is already high.  There is little impact on rural crime rates (which are traditionally low).

Now the reason I find this idea somewhat convincing comes from the study of immunology.  In immunology, there is what is known as the herd effect or herd immunity.  The theory of herd immunity

describes a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. Herd immunity theory proposes that, in contagious diseases that are transmitted from individual to individual, chains of infection are likely to be disrupted when large numbers of a population are immune or less susceptible to the disease. The greater the proportion of individuals who are resistant, the smaller the probability that a susceptible individual will come into contact with an infectious individual.

If we think of crime as the the disease and concealed-carry as the immunity, herd immunity states that not everyone in the population needs to participate in concealed-carry for the entire population (the herd) to see a benefit.  So if only 2% of the population is armed with concealed-carry, that might be sufficient to protect the whole population.  It might even be that gun ownership rates drop as a result of the impact of concealed-carry on crime rates.

So in a densely populated, high crime area, the mere belief that more people are carrying concealed-weapons than actually are carrying may be enough to deter crime.  Just the fear of an armed citizen might be enough for a criminal to think twice about committing a crime.

Can I prove that this herd immunity theory is correct in it’s application to concealed-carry?  No.  But it is a model which fits the data and as such, deserves consideration and further research.


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55 thoughts on “Why I Support Concealed-Carry

  1. “however, a pathbreaking article by John Lott and David Mustard in 1997 and a subsequent book by Lott have made the case that opportunistic crime should fall for everyone as criminals ponder whether they will be shot or otherwise thwarted by a potential victim or bystander carrying a concealed weapon.”

    Oh good lord.

    1. Well, FWIW, he seems tobe analyzing “right-to-carry” laws and not “concealed-carry” laws.

      “There is no credible evidence that “right-to-carry” laws, which allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns, either decrease or increase violent crime.”

      However, most of those players (Lott, Mustard, Donahue, etc.) all contributed to the chapter I cite.

      But I’m more than happy that this will open a dialog.

      1. Subsequent to that Brookings book, researchers (including Donahue and Ayers) found Lott’s work riddled with coding errors and indications that Lott may have made up data whole cloth. Lott then went berserk, using an online sock puppet to defend his work and defame his accusers.

        1. I don’t much care what Lott did as a sock puppet, that isn’t significant from a scientific perspective. The accusations of coding errors and made up data are more serious, but additional work in the area has proven inconclusive at best.

          In 2009, Public Health Law Research, an independent organization, published an evidence summary concluding there is not enough evidence to establish the effectiveness of “Shall-Issue” laws as a public health intervention to reduce violent crime.

          This empirical back-and-forth may well indicate that the data is too incomplete, ambiguous, and crude to establish the positive or negative effects of conceal-carry on crime.

          1. It’s a bit easier to believe he invented survey respondents in light of the fact that he pretended to be his own graduate student online.

            Yet Lott is still testifying in front of state legislatures on gun – and voter ID – legislation.

            1. Attacking the researcher to get to the research is a very… Koch Brothers approach to science. Climate-gate anyone?

        2. FWIW, I don’t own a gun, wouldn’t own a gun and don’t plan to own a gun. I just don’t see that concealed-carry is a big deal (compared to all the other crap we’re facing in the state). 🙂

          1. You got to admit with “all the other crap you are facing” concealed & at the ready guns in the State Capitol, bars, demonstrations, etc. is adding a dimension of danger and intimidation to all the rest of us unarmed citizens. And you know the Republicans are counting on it.
            Playing with fire.

            1. The data don’t bear that out. The crime rate for people with concealed-cary permits is significantly lower than the general population. The intimidation is in your mind and nowhere else. Don’t give them that power.

              1. Six people last January didn’t give them that power.
                Intimidation can indeed be overcome with commitment. But I have to say that the unexpected martyrs in Arizona effected the public policy conversation about gun laws only to give excuse to more guns in the hands of more people.
                Frankly, I don’t trust several Wisconsin lawmakers inside the State Capitol with guns in their desk drawers.

                1. Phil, I’m interested in how the crime rate for people with concealed gun permits is determined. How do potentially criminal people know not to hit on those with concealed guns?
                  There must be other factors at play in these statistics.

                  1. Palli, it’s the crime rate of those who have permits: people who legally have the right to carry concealed guns do not commit crimes. It’s not that they are not the victims of crime, but that they are not committing them. (although, when a crime is committed against them, the likelihood a second crime is going to be committed by the same criminal is much less)

                    1. Yes, I stated that poorly. What I was trying to say was that the criminality of people with CC permits is lower than the general population. Sorry for the confusion.

  2. Your position doesn’t make me mad in the slightest, and in some respects, mirrors my own. I too base my opinion on the statistics, though it’s been 20 years since I’ve kept up with the literature. At the time, the vast majority of research indicated no impact either way for carry laws, or for the studies that DID find an effect, it was a tiny one. As I recall, the only significant (in the statistical sense) finding was a slight uptick in accidental shootings, which mostly involved the carriers and their families.

    My opposition to the change in WI law was that in order to study such things, there has to be variability in the, um, variables across subjects, in this case states. When I studied it, there was a much more even divide between carry and no-carry states. By the time we took up the issue, only WI and IL remained as holdouts, so there wasn’t really wasn’t much variability left. I suppose we could still examine the differences between concealed vs. open, constitutional vs. licensed, castle vs. traditional, etc., but I feel we’ve lost a real opportunity to maintain our socio-scientific “crucible.”

    What REALLY annoys me is how the other side, with its anti-science, anti-academic bent, could care less about actual repercussions of laws to the point that the stats don’t concern them in the least. And moreso, that this issue, along with a slew of other social issues, are taking precedence over truly important matters like getting the state back to work.

    1. I agree. I’m hoping to short-circuit the distraction on the left to this non-issue. Frankly, we’ve got a lot of other crap to deal with.

  3. Gnarlytrombone, on the flip side, remember Michael Bellesiles, his book ‘Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture’, the revocation of the Bancroft award the book received, and Mr. Bellesiles subsequent resignation from Emory University.

    You would consider me a ‘gun nut,’ and I have seen John Lott’s data and take it with a grain of salt myself, because I know how data can be manipulated (to the advantage of both sides).

    What I’ve found is that violent crime and it’s causes in the US are much more complicated than just ‘more guns’ or ‘less guns.’

    1. Yeah and Bellesiles, unlike Lott, has been driven from the debate. Wingnut welfare works wonders.

  4. I’m not mad. I would like to hear your herd immunity theory view on the proposed castle doctrine law though.
    And I can assure you that my elected representative used absolutely no analytical or reasoning powers to make his decision to support cc, because that would have been a first.

    1. Well, I’ve not looked at the data around the so-called “castle doctrine.” Frankly, I don’t know if divorcing personal responsibility from your actions with a gun represents a sensible approach to home safety, but like I said, I’ve looked at no data.

  5. I adamantly oppose CCW(big surprise if you have read my posts), and will believe that more guns equals less crime, the way more cars = less traffic.

    The thing that really bothers me, and yes the repubs in this state have done way worse than allow CCW, but the fact that when the pass CC, they then need to pass as many laws as possible to let people off the hook who shoot someone who is NOT a threat. Where is the personal responsibility?

    I have never needed a gun “to protect” myself and am very adamant that if I am actually in a situation where a gun would come in handy, if you are not a police officer, please do NOT try and “protect” me.

    I would feel much better knowing that if someone who carries shoots the wrong person that they were to get punished to the fullest extent of the law. if you are responsible and “man/woman” enough to carry, then lets get some personal responsibility and take ownership of your actions.

    1. Well, first of all, CC is not the same as the “Castle Doctrine.” And I haven’t looked at the data for states that have implemented a “Castle Doctrine” law (and frankly, I’m not that interested in this subject to pursue it).

      But I think you missed the point of my original post. The question isn’t one of “more guns” or “less guns,” but one of “I don’t know how many guns there are.” And that is where the deterrence effect of CC comes from. In fact, one could argue that with CC, you could actually get away with far fewer guns simply because you don’t know how many are out there.

      Think of it like Air Marshals. Not every flight has one, but you never know. In fact, there are fewer than 4,000 Air Marshals in service. If you combine that with the fact that there are 30,000 domestic flights per day, you can arrive at a deterrence factor.

      For the sake of argument, assume that only 1/2 of the Air Marshals are on duty at any given time (vacation, sick time, down time, paperwork, etc.) that means that only 7 in 100 flights are likely to have an Air Marshal on board.

      Now this is a big swag, I’ll admit, but I’ll bet it’s directionally correct. So you never know. There might be an Air Marshal but then again, maybe not. But you never know! I think CC works the same way.

        1. that also assumes that the reason we have not had any more hijackings is because of the air marshals on some flights and not all of the other things that have been enacted in the last 10 years.

          1. I didn’t claim it was the only deterrence, but it is a deterrence. And the effect remains the same. Or do you dispute the effect in it’s entirety? Do you think the herd immunity theory is wrongly applied here?

            1. Actually yes I do. I think poverty/unemployment rate are a much bigger determinant of crime. As poverty and unemployment increase so does crime. People need to eat, etc… The chance that someone mightbe carrying a weapon does not make people any less desperate.

              1. I’m not making a case for why crime occurs. I’m sure you and I agree on the reasons (poverty, drugs, etc.). The case I’m making is one of deterrence. I still haven’t heard a good reason why CC is not a deterrence. Again, it’s not the only one, but it is one nonetheless.

      1. The Air Marshall “deterrence” example only works if you believe (let alone prove) life-threatening that hi-jacking and /or other crimes would be happening on air flights.

        Public policy arguments based on “fear” are rehabilitating to a society.

        “There are only two kinds of politics, the politics of fear, and the politics of trust.” Ed Muskie 1972 from a Presidential nominee campaign brochure

        1. Exactly. The unintended consequences of concealed carry arguably outweigh any benefits, even if those benefits are scientifically demonstrable. It makes us an armed society with a different kind of mentality . After all, dicatatorships and authoritarian regimes also have very low crime rates. Moreover, this kind of law takes us away from community responsibility and toward Ayn Rand galtism. It’s feel-good politics but bad public policy — another “tragedy of the commons.” But I don’t even buy that studies have conclusively demonstrated the value of concealed carry; that may true in some places, sometimes, but if it were always true, states like Wisconsin wouldn’t already have lower crime rates than states that have long since liberalized (strange word, in this case) gun rights. The reality is that there are many variables and controlling for them all to consider the full impact ain’t that easy. Instead, we just get sudden impact.

          1. But what if those “unintended consequences” are positive? What data do you cite to indicate that they’re negative? I find slippery slope arguments unconvincing from the left as much (if not more) than ones from the right.

            I hold my own team to a higher standard. 🙂

    2. I live in KY and have had my CCDW permit since 1996. I carry everyday and I have yet to even pull my gun let alone shoot it at anyone. We have the Castle Doctrine and it is very specific about when you can use deadly force, you can’t shoot if the subject is in retreat for example. I believe that just the thought that they could run in to an armed citizen makes most criminals think twice before they act. Think of it this way, if the deer could shoot back there would be a lot less hunting licenses issued.

  6. I apologize, I sound incoherent lately in the rush to be part of a conversation. (plus I must remember to zoom text larger.)

    hi-jacking & life-threatening crimes
    dehabilitating to society- hey you writers, is there no word dehabilitating? spell check changed my entire meaning in the post above

  7. @Phil I agree I really don’t see this changing much of anything, for better or worse. That said it does make me wonder what people are so afraid of that they feel they need to carry a gun? I’d hate to ever live with that much fear in my life.

    1. I agree on the fear question. But if there is a social benefit to leveraging that fear through some herd-immunity-like mechanism, then the pros may outweigh the cons. That’s my main point here.

      More research is clearly needed.

  8. Phil,

    I think it’s important to point out that the data you analyzed compares states in the U.S. A great many other western countries approach the problem of crime in much different ways, with generally much better results. Conceal and carry is not usually part of the equation.

    1. That is a good point, but since we don’t live in those other countries, we live in a country where we’re stuck with the 2nd Amendment and a supreme court who ruled in McDonald v. Chicago:

      The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self defense in one’s home is fully applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded.

      Therefore the right to keep and bear arms upon one’s person is uninfringeable. Though you and I may prefer another approach (I know I do!), we need to make the best of a bad circumstance. If something positive can come from CC, then we should embrace it.

      Whatever we do to change the laws around firearms in America will require a constitutional amendment and that’s not likely to happen in our lifetimes.

      I’m merely trying to make liberal lemonade out of NRA lemons. 🙂

      1. what i am saying is the 2nd amendment does NOT give everyone the right to carry guns anywhere they want concealed or otherwise. It does not say that and it was never intended for that.

        1. Neither you nor I are in a position to evaluate the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment unless we’re appointed to the Federal bench or the SCOTUS. The 2nd Amendment means what they say it means. And based on the ruling of McDonald v Chicago, it seems that they are interpreting the 2nd Amendment in a very, very broad manner.

          1. granted the “interpretation” of the Constitution is a different story altogether, although with the corporatists Alito and roberts and the downright crazy Scalia and overmatched thomas, I think I can predict how they interpret it.

            I was referring to the meaning behind it when Jefferson wrote it. This is not how it was originally intended and i can say that with quite a bit of certainty

              1. Actually No because i would say Jefferson is very relevant to this topic, especially when you using the 2nd amendment as the reason why we can not put any limits on guns.

                Of course crime with people who have CC will be down because the vast majority of them do not need a gun. A couple statistical questions.

                1. If Jeff Fitzgerald carries a gun and then has people arrested for taking pictures, would that go in the crime category of cc or would that be seperate?

                2. What about this guy? http://www.fox8.com/news/wjw-parma-barber-accidentally-shot-buttocks-in-shop-txt,0,5526171.story He was not charged with a crime but the statistic I know for sure is, if he did NOT have a gun there was a 100% chance that this would NOT have happened.

      2. Phil,

        McDonald v Chicago seems to affirm the right to keep and bear arms in ones home, not on ones person. This ruling came in response to litigation regarding the handgun ban in Chicago, not a conceal/carry issue.

        1. I understand that the case is not directly on-point, but it does give you a read on the state of mind of the SCOTUS (are they a judicial collective? Perhaps!). They seem inclined to interpret the 2nd Amendment as broadly as possible. Certainly, as the 48th state to pass a CC law, there has been ample time for challenges.

  9. I find nothing credible in any of the cited sources that lead me to accept that carrying a concealed firearm is beneficial to society as a whole, let alone beneficial to individuals wishing to protect themselves from criminals roaming the streets.

    You lost me, Phil.

  10. This is by far the only good the Republicans done in control was with gun rights. Now I’m probably going to get a lot of people jumping on me about this, but the mandatory open carry law while it did show the law abiding citizens who had guns, people who prey on others would deliberately look for people who didn’t carry them.

    In my eyes, having open and concealed carry legal without either being criminalized is a good solution.

    Now that they have done this however: let’s keep moving and recall.

  11. I have to agree that it’s a less important issue than many we should be working on. People have always carried concealed weapons – people who are up to no good, that is. And undercover cops were exempted. I would prefer more stringent regulations on who can get ahold of any firearm, never mind whether it is concealed or not.

    1. I like your post, and I would agree with you if the question were one of quantity of guns in circulation. It’s unclear from the data whether or not CC increases the number of guns in the environment.

      CC acts like the old MX missile system where the missiles were on trucks and moved around from place to place so you could never figure out how many there were.

      [T]he program was reinstated in 1979 by President Carter, who authorized deployment of 200 missiles in of a system of multiple protective shelters linked by underground or aboveground roads, the so called “Racetrack” proposal.

      The question of deterrence with CC lies not in the quantity of guns in the system, but on their state of visibility.

  12. Who really cares about the statistics! Fact of the matter is that if I am carrying a weapon the likely hood of me not getting robbed, mugged, or murdered is very, very high. If criminals knew people were armed they would more likely not attempt to harm you. That’s a fact.

    1. Zach and I agree to disagree on this. The data demonstrates that CCW does not increase crime, per se and may have the effect of reducing crime in already high-crime areas. The data, though disputed by some, seem to point in that direction.

      But we both agree that the so-called Castle Doctrine is a license to absolve homeowners from any real personal responsibility for their actions and will lead to an increase in gun violence (as we have already seen in every state where it has been introduced).

      1. I love the Castle law! I love the fact that home owners can protect their lives, and property, without being charged or convicted unfairly. Even when there was no castle law, people still used lethal force to protect their lives and property. Don’t act as if people abide by the law. I was a police officer for many years and I can tell you that law or no law people will always do whatever it takes to protect themselves from predators. The only reason why they are passing these laws like the Castle law, is because liberals have been trying for years to disarm law abiding citizens, they would rather you be a victim for some odd reason. Taking guns away from people, will never happen in this nation, and those who fight to take our guns away are fighting in VAIN!

  13. Your statement is unfair using logic, science, and statistical data to make your point.

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