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Gun Laws Essay, Research Paper

States from Michigan to Nebraska to California, as well as the federal government, are considering new rules on letting law-abiding citizens carry guns. Does allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns deter violent crimes? Or does this cause otherwise law-abiding citizens to harm each other? Thirty-one states now have guaranteed their citizens the right to carry concealed handguns if applicants do not have a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness. So what have the results been?

The numbers tell the story

Using the FBI’s crime-rate data for all 3,054 U.S. counties by year from 1977 to 1992, I co-authored a study in the January 1997 Journal of Legal Studies. We found that concealed handguns deter violent crimes and produce no significant increase in accidental handgun deaths. The accompanying figures show how dramatic this drop is by illustrating how different violent crime rates change before and after the adoption of these laws. The size and timing of the decline coincide closely with the number of concealed-handgun permits issued. Counties issuing the most new permits had the greatest drops in crimes.

The study considered arrest and conviction rates, prison-sentence lengths and changes in many other handgun laws such as waiting periods, as well as income, poverty, unemployment and changing demographics. Thousands of observations made it possible to control for a whole range of other factors never included in any previous crime study.

The estimated benefits indicate that if those states without right-to-carry concealed handgun provisions had adopted them in 1992, at least 1,500 murders would have been avoided yearly. Similarly, rapes would have declined by more than 4,000, robbery by more than 11,000 and aggravated assault by more than 60,000.

Benefits all around

Surprisingly, the largest drops in violent crimes occurred in the most urban counties with the highest crime rates. Further, the benefits of concealed handguns were not limited to those who carry the weapons. By the nature of these guns being concealed, criminals cannot tell whether a potential victim is armed, thus making crime less attractive when it involves direct contact with people. Citizens who have no intention of carrying a concealed handgun benefit from the crime-fighting efforts of their fellow citizens.

While allowing either men or women to carry concealed handguns deters murder, the impact is particularly dramatic for women. The findings imply that for each additional woman carrying a concealed handgun the murder rate for women falls by three to four times more having an additional man carrying a concealed handgun lowers the murder rate for men. With women typically being weaker physically, providing a woman with a gun has a much bigger effect on her ability to defend herself.

People willing to go through the permitting process also tend to be law abiding. In Florida, almost 444,000 licenses were granted from 1987 to 1997, but only 84 people have lost their licenses for using a firearm in a felony. Most cases appear to have involved accidentally carrying a gun into restricted areas like airports or schools.

During Texas’ first two years of issuing permits in 1996 and 1997, permit holders were arrested for violent crimes at less than one-sixth the rate of other adult Texans, and these arrests rarely involved guns. Likewise, in Virginia, not a single permit holder has been involved in a violent crime. Similar results have been observed in states such as Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Listen to the men in blue

While most police have supported concealed-handgun laws, many opponents have changed their minds after adoption. For example, Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, recently summarized his change of heart: “I lobbied against the law in 1993 and 1995 because I thought it would lead to wholesale armed conflict. That hasn’t happened. All the horror stories I thought would come to pass didn’t happen. No bogeyman. I think it’s worked out well, and that says good things about the citizens who have permits. I’m a convert.”

Permit holders are unusually law-abiding citizens who fear for their personal safety. The police are simply not able to protect everyone all the time. As a former opponent of concealed handgun laws, Campbell County, Ky. Sheriff John Dunn says: “I have changed my opinion … These are all just everyday citizens who feel they need some protection.”

The evidence clearly indicates that we are all better off when law-abiding citizens are given a chance to defend themselves.

This article is too stupid to comment on. As already stated, America has a disgusting homicide rate, the result of the gun mentality. Back to the Third World again, eh??!! Inner-city Detroit looks like some two-bit dictatorship that Americans here about on TV and pity. Pity indeed : (

3/26/98 AllenM

Funny, David, that Detroit got to be in such sad shape with some of the toughest gun laws in the Nation.

3/26/98 Christopher

Clearly Mr. Lott is right on the money with his article. No matter where you are in the world, if you want to move large quantities of gold or cash, you arm your guards. This holds true even in countries with TOTAL bans on guns. Driving gold through Ireland or Japan will find the same armed guards. Why do they need to arm their guards? Because criminals will ALWAYS obtain weapons and resort to violence. This brings up the question: If gold is valuable enough to protect, aren’t the lives of individuals worth that or more? If most people value life more than gold, then it would stand to reason that they should have the right to protect themselves with the very finest means available. Certainly the 500,000 slaughtered in Rwanda would have been better off had they been armed…instead, their attackers found only unarmed, defenseless people. The results were too predictable. In the LA Riots, again it was the defenseless, unarmed citizens who suffered the most cruelly. Such extremes are mere examples, by the way. Violence against law-abiding citizens is to be condemned even when it is conducted by a lone unarmed criminal…and it too is worthy of being armed to defend against.

3/26/98 Bob Bailey

Seems like those in power forget 2 things. A law, any law is a limitation on our freedom. Although many laws are nessesary, many are not. A law is only good for LAWABIDING people. No amount of law will prevent sensless acts. Criminals respect armed people.Why is it that our lawmakers do not? Why are you blaming “guns” for violence ? Seems to me that it’s a morality problem.For those that do not obey the law, and for those like yourself that don’t have the spine to stand up for what is right.

3/26/98 R. Clarke

Excellent article. I only take issue with one statement: “The police are simply not able to protect everyone all the time.” This furthers the myth that the function of the police is to protect individuals. In reality, their job is much different. They are charged with investigating violations of the law, writing reports, and arresting suspects. There is a good deal of case law backing this up. Your local police department has *no obligation* to protect you from those who would harm you. For those who doubt this, or just want more info, read “The Value of Civilian Arms Possession As Deterrent To Crime Or Defense Against Crime” By Don B. Kates Jr. (Originaly published in AMERICAN J. OF CRIM. LAW (1991)). A quick search of the title at Yahoo should bring this right up.

3/26/98 Muad’Dib usul@thepoint.net_nospam

Mr. Lenan’s probing commentary notwithstanding, guns are curative, not causal as regards violence. The Justice Dept just finished a study, but haven’t released it publicly. It seems that, despite operational assumptions specifically designed to minimize the positive effect of guns on crime rates, they still found over 1.5 million defensive uses of firearms a year – which is in line with similar studies (i.e., Gary Kleck). Our “disgusting” homicide rate has been dropping steadily since 1980, in lockstep with a decline in the population’s percentage of 14-24 y.o. males – but coincident with a marked _increase_ in the passage of concealed-carry laws and permits issued, and an increase of over 40% in the number of guns in private hands. Were guns the cause of crime, the rate would be increasing. Ipso facto, the passage ” too stupid to comment on” is not the article….


Has anyone done a study of the effects of open carry? Why weren’t any fo the teachers involved in the Jonesboro incident armed? Or even some of the children?

3/26/98 Christopher

Jonesboro and similar tragedies will naturally continue as Public Schools mimic their government sibling known as Public Housing. Both prove that government should be quite limited in what it is permitted to operate, unless you want the violence associated with public housing and public schools to continue unabated.

3/26/98 Ron Lewenberg rml33@columbia.edu

Whether right-to-carry laws promote or detter violence is irrellevant to the law. The true debate is about the fundamental right of citizens to protect themselves from criminals and against the state. There is a reason why the loudest pro-confiscator here is from France. That reason is the relationship of the individual to the state. In Europe power is found in the state and lent to the people as a privelege. In America our rights are UNALIENABLE and we lend power to the state. The government has no morall or legal authority to disarm citizens. To do so is to through out our reason d’etre. For the people to promote such an action is an admission that freedom has failed. Gun control advocates don’t want to control guns, they want the government to controll us.

3/26/98 Bob

re:Ron Lewenberg Amen to that brother ! Best thing I”ve heard yet.

3/26/98 Non-Ideologue

So Mr. Lewenburg, don’t you think that Palestinians also should have the right to carry guns and defend themselves as human beings , just like Israelis? I take your comments to be universally applicable principles, not just for Americans, but also for Jewish settlers in Israel (and Arabs in the occupied territories) where religious fanatics and economically motivated families already have the right to carry guns and shoot Arabs whose families have always been there and get away with it. Right now the Palestinians, a decent percentage of whom are Christian, only can use stones to try to throw off the cruel oppressor who breaks its Oslo treaty commitments and scorns the world community. If Israel could not control the Palestinians before allowing Arafat to return (and turning over a few small pieces of land), then how can the Palestinians do it? Is gun control doomed to fail? Which is it?

3/26/98 anonymous

Was anybody else just a little suspicious of the statistics presented in this article? Were the graphs shown for just one state each, presented as an example, or are they somehow a composite of all available data? Were there any states that did not show a dramatic plunge after the legalization of concealed weapons? Also, I’d like to see a side-by-side comparison of, say, a state that adopted the measure and a nearby state that didn’t, for the same time period. The author makes some good points, but I’d like to know a little more about the data. Maybe I’m just a skeptic…

3/26/98 David Lenan

Muad’Dib: My original comment was as probing as was needed given the intelligence of the article. America’s homicide rate is disgusting, to most people at least, mabe not to someone with your character. Guns ARE the cause of these horrible crimes, the decrease in the homicide rates is almost entirely due to the fact that the baby boomers are at a point in their aging where their getting too “old” to commit crimes. Again, no one will look at the international evidence. Your post was JUST not too stupid to comment on.

3/26/98 mowgli

Seems like John Lott is on to something. We should do some serious studies on this matter. However David Lenan and others of his ilk would probably not believe those results either. Why is it that some refuse to seek the truth? They are so sure of their convictions that they reject truth and scoff at attempts to reach the truth. Give us a break David! We have to find out what will work. Or shouldn’t we? Ill grant you there is no panacea but nothings working now as you point out. What would you have us do? Wring our hands and admit there is no solution?

3/26/98 Bob

To David Lenan: Get a clue. If you took every gun in this country and destroyed it, are you silly enough to believe that that would be the end of violence ? As for “international” results, I could really care less. This is still the greatest country in the world and your article smacks of socialism. Do you own a gun ? Have you ever had to protect youself, or are you living in Utopia? Are you jealous of common men that own guns ? Where do you live ?Are you “allowed” by the authorities to even own guns , or is that just for the ruling elite ? Tell me please. I’m trying to figure out how someone can even think like this.

3/26/98 John Anderson

David Lenan: “Guns ARE the cause of these crimes”? Don’t know if you actually meant this, but if you did, you’re are excusing the people (criminals) who commit these crimes. A criminal is not responsible because they are victims of society, right? It’s these criminal-tolerant views, adopted so much by our legal system, that have been a significant contributor to higher violent crime rates. Does your view also extend to butcher knives, baseball bats, arsenic, automobiles, rocks, rope, bare hands, and other tools of intentional murders? Crime is an act of a person, and the rights of law-abiding people need not be stripped in a misguided attempt to exonerate the criminal and place blame on inanimate objects.

3/26/98 David Lenan

Bob: Your post is so full of self-righteouss I don’t even know what you think of reality. Taking the guns away wouldn’t end violence, but it would temper it down a great deal. I KNOW YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT “INTERNATIONAL” RESULTS, THAT’S PART OF THE GODDAMN PROBLEM WITH AMERICANS, SO CONCEITED!!!!! If you are an America Bob, YOU are the one being ruled by the elites. Your post smacks of ignorance, check out an atlas, discover there are other countries, discover that the smart ones banned guns, discover everyone isn’t killing everyone in these countries.

3/26/98 David Lenan

John Anderson: I don’t believe criminals are the victims of society. I would like to see those two boys be executed, they took the lives of innocent children before they could live, therefore the boys should lose thier lives. All the examples you give me are objects, but guns are the only ones that are there just to KILL!! Taking the guns away would make that a lot harder, which would be a good start in attempting to get things in order.

3/26/98 Allen VanCleve

David Lenan: Why are so terrified of freedom and self determination. When are you going to realize that your disgust in personal freedom will eventually lead to a police state. Having spent the majority of my childhood under the “care” of the state.(foster care) Ihave seen first hand what it is like to live in a nanny state. I wouldn’t wish that even on you even though it seems to be what you want.

3/26/98 David Lenan

Allen VanCleve: Banning guns doesn’t take away freedom. LOOK AT CANADA!! Canada is MORE free. While Americans were enslaving “niggers” Canadians were risking war with America to sneak blacks into Canada and FREEDOM. Canadians can walk down an inner-city street without being killed, Toronto and Vancouver are a hundred times safer than L.A. and New York. Canadians are warned when travelling to American that it’s a whole different ball game, stay alert or violence will consume you alive. The freedom argument is justification to keep the weapons, explain the examples of the other nations, other countries like Canada (a country without guns which NO other country has ANY right to criticize about freedom).

3/26/98 Christopher

David: Your passion is appreciated, and certainly the struggle for freedom is the most noble of all battles. You are incorrect, however, to allude to Canada as having no guns. It has millions. It has handguns, rifles, and even automatic weapons. Eskimo children take rifles with them on school field trips to protect themselves from bears. Gun safety classes proliferate. These are good things. It also has a low crime rate. That’s all very nice. Canada does not have my brand of freedom, however. Banks are *Required* to get the government’s permission to purchase other banks (you don’t have much freedom without that permission). Motorists are prohibited from using radar detectors. Doctors are assigned low pay-levels (which is why so many great Canadian doctors immigrate to the US to help give us the best healthcare on the planet). These are anectdotal, of course, but they help illustrate that freedom is not the same as tranquility. Sure, a diehard Socialist can always claim that it is reasonable for governments to “limit” what doctors make (or lawyers or businessmen), but in no way is that FREEDOM! Freedom is found where people are willing to fight for their rights. This means that things can get quite violent, in fact wars are often fought over freedom. Freedom requires that you stand up to every bully and never back down. Whether you choose to do this with a particular weapon or not is immaterial (so long as you have the choice).

3/26/98 Jim Block jimblock@cei.net

Allen. It is a people problem not a gun problem. Switzerland households are REQUIRED to keep assult rifles and ammunition available. You can walk down Swiss streets even more securely that Canadian streets. IT IS A PEOPLE PROBLEM, NOT A GUN PROBLEM.

3/26/98 Muad’Dib usul@thepoint.net_nospam

I see a trend emerging: Any comments whicb do not conform perfectly to Mr. Lenan’s views are “too stupid to comment on” (yet the urge to say so overwhelms, I guess). An easy, predictable debating technique, but hardly convincing, I’m afraid. What exactly was “too stupid” about my post, Mr. Lenan? Was there something wrong with my data? Was my analysis of that data flawed in some way? These are certainly a legitimate points of contention, a fact I have in no way disregarded. A debate would entail your pointing out my errors and providing alternative data and/or analysis. I, at least, have provided these – you have not. Anecdotes, repetition, allusion to “international data” you don’t provide, and SHOUTING do not make your point more acute, nor your lack of supporting evidence less apparent. Calling those who disagree with you “stupid” enhances neither your position nor your status as a person whose views should be given any weight. Quite the contrary. Guns are an emotional issue, but not immune to reasonable, methodical debate. I challenge you to step up a level from polemics to actual intellectual discourse. I, and others here, have presented our viewpoints with supporting evidence. If you disagree with me, _support_ your position rather than belittling yourself (not me, I assure you) by namecalling.

3/27/98 Fremling fremling@earthlink.net

See John Lott’s op-ed piece on page A14 in the Friday, March 27th, Wall Street Journal. He has an excellent analysis of the Arkansas school shooting.

3/27/98 bmp bmp@geocities.com

Dear Lenin (uh, I mean, Lenan… David Lenan): If guns are the reason for the relatively high homicide rates in the U.S., please explain why two other countries, that have less gun control than the U.S., have violent crime rates as low as any other European countries? These countries are Switzerland and Israel. If guns cause crime and gun control reduces it, why is it that there was much less crime in the good old days (you know, before you socialists came to power in the 60s), when guns were commonplace and gun control was nonexistent? Hmmmmm?? Speaking of violent crime, do you know how many millions of innocent people were slaughtered by Hitler and Stalin after they disarmed the people, comrade? B.

3/27/98 David Lenan

Muad’Dib: You don’t agree that having a nation full of guns is probably the real cause of a culture that is obsessed with death? You don’t agree that getting rid of the guns would make people think twice about killing because the actual act would be harder (e.g. stabbing with a knife). Often pointless argument arises because it seems some people answer arguments about EVERY issue with the Consitution, the Declaration of Independence, Mom and apple pie. You think that’s educated argument, an issue comes up and half (not all) the people post messages that sound like something William Wallace would say in Braveheart?? Some have said everything on the “gun” debate except “the NRA fought like warrior poets, and won their freedom, forever…”

3/27/98 Steve Koege

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