There has been some confusion over whether people who have permits to carry concealed handguns are as law-abiding as other Texans. Using the provocative title "License to Kill," the Violence Policy Center recently released a report claiming that "those who do carry concealed handguns get into trouble more often than other Texans."
While there is cause to wonder whether the Violence Policy Center over reported the number of permit holders arrested, even its own numbers don't justify that claim. During 1996 and 1997, the first two years that the concealed handgun law was in effect, 163,096 people were licensed. During that period, 263 license holders were arrested for felony offenses, and another 683 were arrested for misdemeanor offenses. By comparison, if permit holders had been arrested at the same rate as the average adult Texan, they would have had 731 arrests for violence crimes and 2,202 for property crimes. Thus, permit holders were about a third as likely to be arrested as non-permit holders and much less likely to commit serious crimes.
The public's ultimate concern is whether permit holders have used their concealed handguns improperly. So let's look at some more statistics to determine that.
During 1996 and 1997, five permit holders were arrested for felonies involving the "deadly conduct/discharge of a firearm" and another two for the "deadly conduct/display of a firearm." Those charges were brought in connection with four deaths. If permit holders had been arrested for murder at the same rate as other adult Texans, 56 would have been arrested.
Equally important, relying on arrest rates misses an important difference between permit holders and others who are arrested for murder. While the vast majority of murder arrests end in conviction, that hasn't been true for permit holders.
Of the four deaths mentioned, none has resulted in a conviction. In fact, two so far have been cleared and deemed to have acted in self-defense.
Thirty-five other permit holders were arrested for other felony "weapon-related offenses," but those involved the unlawful carrying of a weapon in places such as airports and schools. None of those cases apparently involved threats but invariably resulted from people who forgot they had a gun with them.
Overall, the experience in Texas is similar to that in other states. In Florida, almost 444,000 licenses were granted from 1987 through 1997. About half, 204,700, currently are licensed. Eighty-four people lost their licenses after using a firearm in the commission of a felony.
So far in Virginia, not a single Virginia permit holder has been involved in a violent crime. Similar results have been observed in Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states for which detailed records are available.
In December, Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, summed up the typical reaction of those police officers who opposed the concealed handgun law before its adoption: "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 has worked out well, and that says good things about the citizens who have permits. I am a convert."
Harris County District Attorney John Holmes admitted he is "eating a lot of crow on this issue. It isn't something I necessarily like to do, but I am doing it on this."
In a forthcoming book, I find evidence indicating that concealed handgun laws save lives and reduce the threats that citizens face from rapes, robberies and assaults. Criminals tend to attack victims whom they perceive as weak, and guns can offset the differences in strength and serve as an important deterrent.
People don't even have to carry a permit themselves to benefit. The fact that criminals can't tell whether a potential victim has a concealed gun makes them less likely to attack people in general.
Without a doubt, people do bad things with guns, but guns also protect people when law enforcement officers aren't able to be there.
In the final analysis, one concern unites us all: Will allowing law-abiding citizens to own guns save lives? Unfortunately, studies like those done by the Violence Policy Center needlessly scare people and don't move us any closer to answering that question.
John R. Lott Jr. is the author of More Guns, Less Crime, which will be published by the University of Chicago Press in May
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