Skip to comments.The Effects of Concealed Carry, and the Research of John Lott and Others -- A Look At Both Sides
Posted on 03/18/2002 10:29:33 AM PST by jdege
The Effects of Concealed Carry, and the Research of
|An "Anti-Lott" view: "As for [John] Lott's frequently cited study that concluded crime rates fell 8 percent to 15 percent [sic] when changes in laws allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons, it was 'debunked as fatally flawed by literally hundreds of academics,' said [David] Bernstein [spokesman for Handgun Control, Inc., now the Brady Campaign / Million Mom March]." -- from "Pro-gun women go by the numbers," August 29, 2000, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette|
A "Pro-Lott" view: "[John] Lott's study is so far ahead of all previous studies that it makes them all worthless." -- David Kopel, who authored a smaller study on the same issue that found allowing legal concealed carry either has no significant effect on crime or noticeably lowers it.
In 1996, Professor John Lott of the University of Chicago (and later, Yale Law School), together with David Mustard, published a research paper claiming that concealed carry laws have led to a reduction in violent crime in those States that have passed them. Lott and Mustard, based on what has been called the largest and most comprehensive study ever undertaken on the subject of guns and crime, found that concealed carry laws, far from causing "blood in the streets," reduce murder, on average, by 8.5%, rape by 5%, and severe assault by 7%. The reason, Lott believes, is (quite simply) that criminals are hesitant to directly attack law-abiding victims who just may be armed. These findings were further explained in Lott's 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime.
Controversy has raged ever since.
Do concealed-carry laws actually have at least a small effect on preventing crime? Or is John Lott a gun-biased wacko, as he has been portrayed by at least one prominent gun control advocacy group? 1
Below is a summary of the research in this area. Please note the following, which should help you get a true picture:
Secondly, the sheer number of articles published on either side doesn't necessarily say anything about how solid their arguments are. As we will see, a few of these articles are far more questionable than Lott's.
Overall, I show 20 authors contributing to the debate on the Lott side, 20 authors on the no-effect side, and 2 authors on the concealed-carry-is-dangerous side. One of these is the Brady Campaign. The other is Hashem Dezhbaksh. His co-researcher apparently feels theres little or no effect (and thats also what I perceive from reading their joint paper); however, Dezhbaksh seems to feel that concealed carry laws are detrimental overall. He obviously feels that they increase robberies with only a slight apparent decrease in murders (and that this is a bad thing); so I have placed him in the "concealed carry is detrimental" category.
The explanation for the obviously enormous gulf between robbery and rape against murder and assault is quite simple: when somebody uses a gun in Texas, lawfully or not, they get arrested. If a permit holder kills or wounds an attacker, he or she gets arrested. Therefore the assault and murder arrest rates would appear to include quite a high percentage of incidents of permit holders using their weapons lawfully in self-defense. It would be far more accurate to base a study on conviction rates, but there is not yet enough of this information for it to be statistically significant. However, even with the odds stacked against them statistically, permit holders still come out a lot better than the general public.5 The assertion that permit holders, overall, are "quite a law-abiding bunch" is obviously true.
In reality, though, Dezhbaksh and Rubin aren't arguing that permit holders commit a lot of robberies only, if I understand them correctly, that license-to-carry laws also give robbers a bit more opportunity to carry weapons. However, Dezhbaksh and Rubin also find a small decrease in murders.
They further attempt to predict effects of concealed carry legislation for specific states. For Missouri, they would predict no effect on homicides, small to moderate decreases in the most violent kinds of other crimes (rape and serious assaults), and small to smallish increases in robbery, burglary, and auto theft. This, incidentally, is not very much different from what Lott finds; only Dezhbaksh & Rubin maintain that the effects are much smaller.
I personally find the decreases in murder, rape and serious assault (crimes in which victims always get hurt) to be more important than increases in robbery, burglary & auto theft. But to be conservative, one might put Dezhbaksh & Rubin in the "little or no effect" category. This is apparently where Rubin puts himself. And in spite of these findings, Dezhbaksh seems to still feel that "concealed carry is detrimental" -- so I have put him in that category.
Conclusion: The entire weight of scholarly consensus is that right-to-carry laws, on balance, do no harm -- and such laws may save lives and reduce violent crime.
Out of a total of 41 academic researchers and reviewers who wrote papers on the issue, only one or two (Dezhbaksh and, to be generous, Rubin) maintain that they've found specific evidence of any significant detrimental effect from concealed carry laws. This detrimental effect for robberies, offset by a small decrease in homicides, is contradicted by others, and especially by Carlisle Moody. Of the remaining 39 researchers, 20 believe concealed-carry laws reduce crime, and 19 don't.
In summary, then, the results of the known research seem quite clear.
If concealed carry were to cause a limited increase in any one category of violent crime, the overall effect might still be considered positive, if such laws caused a sufficient decrease in other categories. However, there's no credible, substantial evidence to suggest that concealed carry laws do any significant harm in any category of violent crime -- or in accidental gun deaths either. According to about half of academic researchers, such laws have positive effects on society.
License-to-carry laws may reduce the overall number of homicides, rapes, and serious assaults. In addition, evidence from Utah suggests that since citizens voluntarily receive additional firearms safety training in order to get permits, such laws that also contain safety training provisions may reduce the number of accidental firearms deaths as well.
Following are full lists of the relevant research, and of the opinions of informed reviewers. If you wish to contact the author with additional information, you may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research Studies and Articles Concerning the Findings of John Lott and Others That Suggest Concealed Carry Reduces Crime and Saves Lives
(The Internet version of this paper, at http://www.gunlies.com/gl/lott.htm, includes actual links to the underlined studies).
|Known studies and articles that generally agree with Lott: concealed-carry laws reduce crime and/ or save lives.||Known studies and articles that say Lott is wrong; the benefits are unproven, or there is little or no effect on crime and saving lives.||Known studies and articles that say Lott is quite wrong; concealed-carry laws are downright dangerous; they increase crime and /or cost lives.|
Lott, J, Mustard, D., More Guns, Less Crime; and the 1996 study, Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns, that preceded it.
Olson DE, Maltz MD. Right-To-Carry Concealed Weapon Laws and Homicide in Large U.S. Counties: The Effect on Weapon Types, Victim Characteristics, and Victim- Offender Relationships, Loyola University Chicago
Bronars, Stephen G., and John R. Lott, Jr., Criminal Deterrence, Geographic Spillovers, and Right-to-carry laws, American Economic Review, 88 (May 1998): 475-479.
Moody, Carlisle E, Testing for the Effects of Concealed Weapons Laws: Specification Errors and Robustness, College of William & Mary, Dec 2000
Cramer C and Kopel D. "Shall Issue": The New Wave of Concealed Handgun Permit Laws, Tennessee Law Review 62:3 [Spring, 1995] 679-757 12
Bartley, William Alan, and Mark Cohen, "The Effect of Concealed Weapons Laws: An Extreme Bound Analysis," Economic Inquiry, 36 (April 1998): 258-65.
Marvell, Thomas, forthcoming paper in the Journal of Law and Economics, 2002.
Lott, JR, Landes, WM, Multiple Victim Public Shootings, Bombings, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgun Laws: Contrasting Private and Public Law Enforcement, University of Chicago Law School ; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), April 1999
Jason Cash, Heath Diel, and Joseph L. Lyon, The Association of Conceal Carry Legislation on the Crime Rates in Utah 1992 1997, July 1999 8 (summary and comments available; see footnote)
Plassman, F., Tideman, TN, Does the Right to Carry Concealed Handguns Deter Countable Crimes? Only a Count Analysis Can Say, Rev. Dec. 1999
Withrow, BL, The Effectiveness of Firearms Conceal Carry Laws on the Incidence and Pattern of Violent Crime, Southwest Texas State University, thesis submitted for Master of Public Administration, May 1993.
|Black DA, Nagin DS. Do right-to-carry laws deter violent crime? J Legal Stud. 1998;27:209-219.
Ludwig, J., Concealed gun carrying laws and violent crime: evidence from state panel data. Int Rev Law Econ. 1998; 18:239-254.9
Webster D & Ludwig J, Myths About Defensive Gun Use and Permissive Gun Carry Laws, 1999 (rehash of other research)
McDowall, D, Loftin, C, Wiersema, B. Easing Concealed Firearm Laws: Effects on Homicide in Three States. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Volume 86, Number 1, pages 221-226 (1995).10
Alschuler, Albert, "Two Gun, Four Guns, Six Guns, More Guns: Does Arming the Public Reduce Crime?"; Valparaiso University Law Review Spring, 1997
Ian Ayres and John Donohue, Nondiscretionary Concealed Weapons Laws: A Case Study of Statistics, Standards of Proof, and Public Policy, Am. Law & Econ. Rev. 436 (2000)
Marzano-Lesnevich, Alexandria, More Guns, No Definitive Conclusions
Webster, D, The Claims that Right-to-Carry Laws Reduce Violent Crime are Unsubstantiated, The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, March 1997 (response by Lott)
Dezhbaksh, H, Rubin, P., The Effect of Concealed Handgun Laws on Crime: Beyond the Dummy Variables, Emory University, January 1999 11
Duggan, More Guns, More Crime, University of Chicago Working paper (2000).
Teret, Stephen, Critical Commentary on a Paper by Lott and Mustard, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, August 1996 (response by Lott)
|Concealed Truth: Concealed Weapons Laws and Trends in Violent Crime in the United States, Handgun Control / Brady Campaign, 1999 (nonacademic, no apparent controls for other factors or statistical analysis)|
|Qualified reviewers & researchers (mostly academics) who agree with Lott that concealed carry laws have a positive effect in reducing crime||Qualified reviewers & researchers (mostly academics) who state that concealed carry laws have no meaningful effect at all in reducing crime, or, at least, that Lott hasn't demonstrated they do||Qualified reviewers & researchers (mostly academics) who contend that concealed carry laws are downright, clearly detrimental to the public good|
Benson, Bruce L.5
Burnett, H. Sterling
Michael Gordinier (WU, St. Louis)
Mast, Brent D5
John O. McGinnis
Glenn H. Reynolds, U. Tenn
Schulman, J. Neil
Viscusi, W. Kip
James Q. Wilson (UCLA)
Kleck, G -- but see blurb on Lott's book.
|CPHV (Brady Campaign/ HCI)
Green, E (MGLC review at amazon.com)
Dezhbaksh, Hashem 11
|If you'd like more firsthand info, you can order John Lott's book More Guns, Less Crime and read it for yourself by clicking on the book image to the left. There's also a hardcover 1st edition, but we recommend this paperback 2nd edition. Not only is it $6 cheaper, it also contains many of John Lott's responses to critics of the 1st edition. By making your purchase here, you'll receive Amazon.com's convenient straight-to-your-door service, and you'll also be making a small contribution to this site, since we'll receive $1.44 from Amazon.com for your purchase made directly via this link.|
1The "Violence Policy Center" in Washington, DC. Their "fact sheet" on John Lott, published back in 1997, is still available (February 2002) at: http://www.vpc.org/fact_sht/wholott.htm. It has been reported elsewhere (e.g., the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 14, 1999) that John Lott, when first doing his study, did not own a handgun, and expected to confirm the then-prevailing opinion that "more guns" would necessarily mean more problems. To quote the newspaper article, "He is not now, nor has he ever been, a member of the National Rifle Association. Before more or less stumbling into gun control research in 1993, he had never owned a gun, and his two sons were not allowed to play with toy guns - even squirt guns - at the Lotts' home in Swarthmore, where he and his family still live."
In most arguments, personal attacks are launched by those who can't convincingly attack the points themselves that are being made. Instead of attacking Lott's research directly (which they have not done at all), the Violence Policy Center has chosen (and still does choose) to attack John Lott personally. This is in spite of the fact that their earlier claims in particular (that Lott is a paid shill for the gun industry) have been convincingly debunked. Yes, Lott held a university position (one of hundreds) that received funding from a foundation that was in turn funded by a corporation that holds, as a small portion of its conglomerate, interests in ammunition (not firearms manufacturing as has been alleged). But upon examination, the links between each link in the supposed chain of influence are so weak as to make the entire chain absurd. To believe the allegations, you have to believe that Lott, the faculty above him at the University of Chicago, and pretty much everyone in between is "in on" a grand conspiracy. In any event, if the research of Lott and others that show benefits to concealed carry didn't hold up, it could easily be (and should be) attacked on its own merits. In spite of spuriousness of the "paid shill" claims, however, this article, like the "fact sheet" on Lott, is available to this day on the Violence Policy Center web site at www.vpc.org.
John Lott himself responds directly to parts, at least, of the Violence Policy Center's "Who Is John Lott?" in his book, as follows: "... in the spring of 1997 the Violence Policy Center sent out a press release entitled "Who Is John Lott?" that claimed, among other things, "Lott believes that some crime is good for society, that wealthy criminals should not be punished as harshly as poor convicts." I had in fact been arguing that "individuals guilty of the same crime should face the same expected level of punishment" and that with limited resources to fight crime, it is not possible to eliminate all of it. I would have thought that most people would recognize these silly assertions for what they were, but they were picked up and republished by publications such as the New Republic."
2Some of John Lott's responses to his critics are, by necessity, quite technical. My opinion, after several fairly careful readings, is that I really haven't found much in his responses that didn't make sense, and that even if his critics are right, there seems to be no credible evidence at all that concealed-carry laws do any measurable harm.
The best immediately available references to Lott's responses, besides those in the current edition of his book, are in an interview with Reason magazine (which can be found at http://reason.com/0001/fe.js.cold.shtml), and at economist David Friedman's web site. This is posted at: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Lott_v_Teret/Lott_Mustard_Controversy.html.
3Brady Campaign also mentions their own (apparently very simple) review of Florida, at www.bradycampaign.org/facts/research/ccwfaq.asp#florida. It's unclear why they single out Florida, when concealed carry has been passed in many other States as well. And within Florida, they further single out the category "handgun murders." This has a bit of justification, since we're talking about concealed carry, but it would seem far more relevant (and candid) to compare overall homicides, since concealed carry may very well have a negative impact on murder by fists, knives and baseball bats.
For some reason, there was a spike in homicides in Florida during 1988. Homicides rose 4% in the U.S., but 13% in Florida. Concealed carry? If so, you would expect it to continue the following year -- but it doesn't. During 1989, the US homicide rate goes up 3% while Florida goes back down a full 9%, wiping out the relative increase. Brady Campaign lists dates at which waiting periods and background checks became mandatory in Florida (late 1990), but proceed to report statistics on into 1992 as if any effects on homicide through 1992 were due to concealed carry.
It makes far more sense to look at homicides from the date concealed carry went into effect until the dates the new laws went into effect. Again, while noting the 1988 spike, overall homicides decreased 1.5% in Florida between concealed carry and the new laws. At the same time, the United States saw an increase of 14.5% in homicide rates. Perhaps this is why Brady Campaign focuses on handgun murders -- the overall homicide statistics simply don't support their position. In fact, they argue against it! Incidentally, when it comes to firearms homicides in general (including but not limited to handguns), Florida saw only a 1.7% increase during this period, compared to a 24.5% increase nationally. The Brady Campaign's Florida information therefore holds no water at all -- yet they boldly claim, "Weakening CCW laws has not made Florida a safer place; in fact, the opposite is true."
Brady Campaign also mentions the 1995 study by McDowall, Loftin, & Wiersema, "Easing Concealed Firearm Laws: Effects on Homicide in Three States," implying that this study covered all of 3 States, including Florida, and that concealed carry leads to a 26% increase in gun homicides, with no change in nongun homicides. In reality, this study only looked at a total of 5 specific urban areas. It didn't use the same sample periods with the various cities, or the same methods for picking the geographical areas for each of those cities. It surmised that concealed carry might lead to greater availability of weapons to criminals, but it didn't study crime rates of concealed-carry permit holders (information from Florida state government sources suggests an extremely low level of criminal activity by concealed carry permit holders), and did not explain how licensing law-abiding citizens could cause a large increase in carrying by criminals, for whom concealed carry (in at least 3 of the 5 urban areas) is still a felony. Perhaps even worse, in two of the three cities showing an increase, the study notes that the rates of homicide without firearms also increased.
Nevertheless, McDowall and his coauthors came to a "weaker conclusion... that shall issue laws raise levels of firearm murders," but then, for the most part, retracted that conclusion (which is why I have it listed in the middle): "Despite this evidence, we do not firmly conclude that shall issue licensing leads to more firearm homicides [let alone more overall homicides; emphasis mine]. This is so because the effects varied over the study areas. Firearm homicides significantly increased in only three areas [again, two of these showed an increase in non-firearms homicides as well], and one witnesses an insignificant decrease. In combination, the increase in gun homicides was large and statistically significant. Yet we have only five replications, and two of these do not clearly fit the pattern." In summary, it is clear that this study covered only a small fraction of the ground covered by the Lott/ Mustard study and is subject to the same kinds of objections (and more); yet Brady Campaign accepts its almost nonexistent results as authoritative, while dismissing the much larger Lott/ Mustard study out of hand (see quote at the beginning of this article).
4A few minutes at the Centers for Disease Control web site (http://webapp.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate9.html), browsing in the database from which Brady Campaign get their quoted figure of 3,792 deaths of "children and youth" from firearms in 1998, easily confirms this. Total firearms-related deaths in the United States from ages 0 through 19 in 1998 is 3,792 (the exact same figure used by Brady Campaign). This includes all suicides, murders, accidents, and police intervention. Of these, total firearms-related deaths for ages 18 & 19 is 1,821, or 48.0% of the total. Children under age 13 account for 294 firearms-related deaths -- only 7.8% of Brady Campaign's "9 children a day."
5Sturdevant, William E., An Analysis Of The Arrest Rate Of Texas Concealed Handgun License Holders As Compared To The Arrest Rate Of The Entire Texas Population (1996 - 1998, Revised to include 1999 data).
6Benson and Mast say "yes" regarding reduced rape, and "maybe" regarding homicide and robbery.
7Mustard found a small decrease in police deaths following right-to-carry laws. This was statistically significant about half the time.
8I have a separate brief summary of the findings of Cash, Diel & Lyon, whose study dealt only with Utah -- see http://www.gunlies.com/gl/utah.htm. While these researchers found no effect in that State on homicide or rape, they agreed with Lott that concealed carry appears to have resulted in a decrease in assaults and robberies -- and surprisingly, seems to have also lowered the number of accidental gun deaths. Their reason for this makes sense: more Utahns have gotten firearms safety training as a result of the license-to-carry provision.
9Jens Ludwig, in this study, takes a rather different approach: he maintains that the apparent positive benefit (in homicides, at least) of concealed carry laws seems to accrue more to young persons (below the concealed-carry licensing age) than to older adults. He then argues that this effect controls for unknown factors in Lott's study, and demonstrates that, "if anything," concealed carry laws result in an increase in adult homicides. His conclusions, however, are quite weak ("if anything") and are very strongly based on an unproven assumption that may very well be invalid. It may be, for example, that the psychological deterrent of concealed carry laws frightens young thugs more than it does older criminals; that young thugs who are thus deterred tend to prey more upon people their own age or younger than upon older adults; and that many of them either don't particularly think about whether their victim is old enough to have a permit, or are deterred simply because they know that while the police are likely far away, there just may be a citizen quite close by carrying a defensive weapon. This scenario does not seem implausible, since approximately half of murderers are under 25 years of age.
There may be other mechanisms as well that could explain why young people might benefit more than older adults (Lott gives some in his book), but Ludwig considers no such possibility. In any event, since there's obviously no evidence that young people suffer disproportionately from any negative effect of concealed carry (and since Ludwig himself, normally a favorite researcher of gun control advocates, didn't even suggest an increase in youth homicides from concealed carry), his study seems quite detrimental to the argument, "We must keep license-to-carry illegal for the sake of the children."
10McDowall, Loftin, & Wiersema also suggested that concealed carry might increase the number of homicides. However, their conclusion was so indefinite that they really seem to fit better in the "no significant effect" category than in the "effects are detrimental" category. For more discussion of this particular study, see footnote 3 on information put out by the Brady Campaign organization.
11You will also see citations of "Lives Saved or Lives Lost: The Effect of Concealed Handgun Laws on Crime," American Economic Review, May 1998. I understand this is a shorter version of the same paper. On the basis of their study and their public statements, I have put the study in the no-effect category. I have also placed Rubin there, but have put Dezhbaksh in the "concealed carry is detrimental" category. These two researchers find, overall, a small reduction in murder, an increase in robberies for many states, and mixed results in other categories of crime. Interestingly, they also attempt to predict the effects of concealed carry legislation in specific States. For example, they predict that Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota might benefit from concealed carry laws, but that Maryland, New Mexico, and Iowa probably would not. For Missouri, they predict that concealed carry should result in no effect on murders, small to definite decreases in rape and aggravated assault (which generally make up the most violent classes of crime besides murder), and small to modest increases in robbery, burglary and auto theft.
12This is the same as: Concealed handgun permits for licensed trained citizens: a policy that is saving lives. Golden CO: Independence Institute Issue Paper #14-93. 1993.
13 While Hood and Neeley agree that there is a correlation between concealed-carry laws and reduced violent crime, they argue that Lott's research should be looked at more closely, because they don't clearly see the mechanism for crime reduction. This is based on their assessment that the people who get concealed-carry permits usually live in low crime areas to start with.
14 The "Kansas City Gun Experiment" was conducted in a very high crime urban area with only 4,500 residents, but where the homicide rate was 20 times the national homicide rate. Over 6 months, police seized 76 guns, statistically 1 firearm for every 60 persons (though many of these were no doubt multiple weapons seized from a single individual). Gun crime was cut in half. This definitely illustrates the effectiveness of taking guns from criminals, but it has little if anything directly to say about the effect of license-to-carry laws for law-abiding citizens. The reason? By definition in the State of Missouri, carrying a concealed weapon, under any circumstances, is in itself a felony. It is not hard to imagine that the crime rate might have been decreased even further if tough enforcement for those inclined to criminal activity had been combined with with license-to-carry for the law-abiding.
15 This study has to do with police enforcement of a weapons ban instituted in Columbia during certain weekends, holidays and election days. During the ban/ intervention times, police maintained a "visible and aggressive presence," conducting checkpoints and searches largely in the high-crime areas. If a legal firearm was found during the ban period, the individual was fined and the weapon was temporarily taken away. Illegal weapons were confiscated, and the possessor was arrested.
Copyright © 2002 John Woodman / GunLies.com. All Rights Reserved.
I believe Nagin and Black send their disagreements they had to Lott on the method. Lott happened to agree with them and fixed it and addressed it in his 2nd addition.
I know the Johns Hopkins studies are funded as well by the ASD(Anti Self-Defense) Joyce Foundtion.
HCI says they are detremental, but Doug Weil says there is no effect? That doesn't make sense to me.
Dan, I don't have the original reference handy, but I'm sure my categorization of Doug Weil in the middle category was due to a statement that Lott has not demonstrated benefits. The middle column is actually two very similar things: a) benefits don't exist; or b) benefits are unproven. In any event, caveats & qualifications above notwithstanding, (esp. re: Dezhbaksh) I've seen no significant evidence presented by Weil (or any other competent researcher) of any meaningful detrimental effects, unless Weil the mostly-anonymous author of the HCI "study."