Minnesota DFLers think they have found Republican gubernatorial
candidate Norm Coleman's Achilles heel. So what is Coleman's supposed
weakness? At least until last week, when he appeared to soften
his position, Coleman supported replacing Minnesota's current
subjective discretionary concealed handgun law with objective
standards regarding training and criminal background checks to
determine who is granted a permit.
Ted Mondale claims that Coleman "threatens the safety and
security of our families." Mike Freeman says it will lead
to "impulsive gun violence." DFL radio ads assert that
Coleman is putting "our children at risk." Among DFL
gubernatorial candidates, only Doug Johnson supported Coleman's
Given the horrific crimes committed with guns, such opposition
is understandable. But much of the public policy debate on guns
is driven by lopsided news coverage that mentions only the crimes
committed with guns. Usually ignored are the over 2 million times
each year that Americans use guns defensively. Dramatic stories
of mothers who use guns to stop carjackers from kidnapping their
children seldom even make the local news.
Police play an extremely important role in reducing crime, though
they virtually always arrive at the crime scene after the crime
has been committed. The question is what would-be victims should
do when they must face a criminal by themselves. Passive behavior,
particularly for women, is not the wisest course of action. The
probability of serious injury from a criminal confrontation is
2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than for women
resisting with a gun. Allowing people to defend themselves also
deters criminals from attacking in the first place.
Guns enable "bad guys" to kill more easily, but they
also allow the innocent to defend themselves. The crucial question
becomes: What is the net effect? Do guns deter crime or encourage
it? Are more lives saved or lost? Anecdotal evidence cannot resolve
To provide a more systematic answer, I published a book on gun
control that analyzed FBI crime statistics for all 3,054 American
counties from 1977 to 1994 as well as extensive information on
accidental gun deaths and suicides. The study examined states
that changed from discretionary to objective concealed-handgun
laws. Thirty-one states now have these "right-to-carry"
The findings were dramatic. The more people who obtain permits
over time, the more violent crime rates decline. After concealed
handgun laws have been in effect for five years, murders declined
by at least 15 percent, rapes by 9 percent and robberies by 11
percent. These are the drops over and above the recent national
declines and after such things as changing arrest and conviction
rates, demographics, and other gun-control laws have been accounted
for. The reductions in violent crime are greatest in the most
crime-prone, most urban areas. Women and blacks gained by far
the most from this ability to protect themselves.
The benefits of concealed handguns are not limited to those who
carry them or use them in self-defense. That these weapons are
concealed keeps criminals uncertain as to whether potential victims
will be able to defend themselves with lethal force.
What about the concern in DFL's ad about "allowing virtually
anyone to carry a concealed gun"? The evidence in other
states indicates that those willing to go through the permit
process are extremely law-abiding. Permits are revoked for any
reason very rarely, and most of these revocations have nothing
to do with improper use of a firearm.
Concerns that permit holders would shoot others after traffic
accidents or angry-drivers-cut-off-in-traffic shootings have
proven unfounded. Despite millions of people now holding permits
and some states having issued permits for as long as 60 years,
only one permit holder has ever used a concealed handgun after
a traffic accident, and that case involved self-defense.
No permit holders have ever shot at, let alone killed, a police
officer; instead, permit holders have on occasion saved the lives
of police officers who were being attacked by criminals. I found
no evidence that concealed handgun laws caused either accidental
gun deaths or suicides to increase.
A system of objective standards also has an important advantage
over discretionary rules that let public officials decide on
a case-by-case basis who deserves a permit. Discretionary rules
have made it especially difficult for the poor and minorities,
who are not as well connected politically but who face the greatest
threats from crime, to get permits.
Surely one of the most terrifying incidents anyone can witness
involves the shootings of multiple victims in a public place.
Victims recount their feelings of utter helplessness as a gunman
methodically shoots his cowering prey. Some countries have reacted
to these events by banning guns, though others, such as Israel,
have taken to licensing their citizens to carry concealed handguns.
Indeed, much of the impetus for concealed-handgun laws in the
United States during the 1980s arose from the belief that these
laws would prevent such attacks.
Using data on these shootings for all states from 1977 to 1995,
incidents in which at least two people were killed or injured
in a public place were also studied. Shootings that were the byproduct
of another crime, such as robbery, were excluded. The United
States averaged 21 such shootings per year, with an average of
1.8 people killed and 2.7 wounded in each one.
A range of different gun laws as well as other methods of deterrence,
such as the death penalty, were examined. However, only the concealed-handgun
laws succeeded in reducing deaths and injuries from these shootings.
When states passed them, the number of multiple-victim public
shootings declined by 84 percent. Deaths from these shootings
plummeted by 90 percent, injuries by 82 percent. Shootings still
occur in places like schools, were guns are illegal. Higher arrest
rates and increased use of the death penalty slightly reduced
the incidence of these events, but the effects were never statistically
While national surveys of police show they support concealed
handgun laws by a 3-1 margin, the experience after passage of
concealed-handgun laws has caused even former opponents in law
enforcement to change their positions. A typical response was
provided in December by Glenn White, president of the Dallas
Police Association. He said, "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 . . . I think it's worked out
well, and that says good things about the citizens who have permits.
I'm a convert."
To date, I have made my data available to academics at 36 universities.
Everyone who has tried has been able to replicate my findings,
and only three have written pieces critical of my general approach.
Although the vast majority of researchers concur that concealed-handgun
laws significantly deter crime, not even these three critics
have argued that allowing concealed-handgun laws increases crime.
Before my work, the largest previous study examined 170 cities
within one single year and found results similar to my own. Ted
Mondale frequently cites the only study that has found any category
of crime to increase. Yet that study picked a total of only five
counties from three states, with no explanation on how those
five counties were chosen, and accounted for no other factors
that affect crime.
Both sides in the gun control debate have their own anecdotal
stories, and surely many hypothetical horror stories will be
raised before this campaign is through. Fortunately these fears
are easily disproved once one looks at the experience in other
states. The benefits are also equally obvious. My estimates for
Minnesota, based upon its characteristics, indicate that a right-to-carry
law would prevent about 1,500 violent crimes each year.
To Purchase: More Guns, Less Crime By: John Lott, Jr.
Hard Cover:Click Here