Have Gun, Will Travel

Concealed weapons don't lead to chaos.


The city of Los Angeles, which for two decades refused to issue concealed-handgun permits to private citizens—even to celebrities such as actor Edward James Olmos—agreed to give out 16 in September. As part of a settlement in a lawsuit backed by the Second Amendment Foundation, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the National Rifle Association, the L.A. Police Commission recognized the need for people in "high-risk professions" to carry concealed weapons and gave Police Chief Willie Williams the power to issue carry permits.

L.A.'s reluctance to let people carry guns reflects the fear, shared by officials in many cities, that firearms in private hands can only result in more violence. A recent Independence Institute study finds that such fears are unjustified.

The study's authors, Clayton E. Cramer and David B. Kopel, note that 10 states have adopted laws requiring authorities to issue a carry permit for self-protection to anyone who passes a background check and completes a safety class. They compare murder rates in those states, before and after the laws were adopted, to national trends.

Cramer and Kopel find the most dramatic effect in Florida, where the murder rate was 18 percent to 57 percent above the national average between 1975 and 1986. After the state approved a "non-discretionary" carry-permit law in 1987, the murder rate fell steadily, from 36 percent above the national average in 1986 to about 4 percent below in 1991. Cramer and Kopel attribute the drop to the deterrent effect of the new carry-permit policy.

In the other states, the picture is less clear: Some saw modest decreases in the murder rate relative to the national average, and in a few of these cases the decline seems to be a result of carry-permit legislation. Some states saw slight increases in murders, Kramer and Kopel write, but "in neither large or small states do we see evidence of obvious long-term increases in murder rates after passage of these laws." They conclude that liberal carry-permit laws can do a lot of good, especially in states with high murder rates, and are unlikely to do significant harm.

A 1993 survey by Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck lends support to that conclusion. Based on interviews with a random nationwide sample of about 5,000 households, Kleck reports that firearms (mostly handguns) are used defensively to prevent criminal acts somewhere between 800,000 times a year (based on memories of the previous five years) and 2.4 million times a year (based on memories of the previous 12 months).