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.
These permit holders were about a third as likely to be arrested
as nonpermit 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
"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
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
Criminals tend to attack victims whom they perceive as weak,
and guns can offset the differences in strength and serve as an
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
Without a doubt, people do bad things with guns, but guns also
protect people when law enforcement officers aren't able to be
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 was published by the University of Chicago Press in May.