Carried Away

Concealed handgun laws and crime


As Congress uses legislation like the recent crime bill to restrict the rights of citizens to legally own firearms, state governments are making it easier for people to carry concealed weapons. And, contrary to gun-control advocates' claims, carry-permit reform appears not to increase gun violence.

Since 1961, Washington state has required judges to issue permits allowing any person to carry concealed handguns unless the applicant is younger than 21, awaiting trial for a misdemeanor or felony, awaiting sentencing for a violent crime, or subject to a court order prohibiting that person from owning or using firearms. Washington had been the only state to require judges to issue carry permits.

But in 1987, Florida started a wave of carry-permit reforms with its law that permits be granted to applicants who roughly meet the same tests as in Washington. Florida also excludes mental patients and substance abusers and requires applicants to pass gun-safety tests. Since Florida's law passed, 11 other states have similarly liberalized concealed-weapons carry laws.

Opponents of liberalizing carry laws asserted that Florida would be known as "the Gunshine state." In fact, while Florida's homicide rate was 36 percent higher than the national average in the years before the law took effect, the rates dropped to 4 percent lower than the national average in 1991, according to a new study by Clayton Cramer and David Kopel for the Colorado-based Independence Institute. In 1992, Florida's homicide rate equaled the rest of the nation's. And homicide rates in the other 12 states have mostly paralleled national trends; the rates have not gone up or down dramatically.

The study also compares violent-crime rates across California, where city and county officials have discretion to issue permits. It divides counties into three groups—those in which less than 0.1 percent of the population has received carry permits; those in which between 0.1 percent and 1 percent have permits; and those in which more than 1 percent have permits.

California counties that most restricted permits had above-average rates of aggravated assault, murder, rape, and robbery. In the counties with the most-liberal access to permits, the robbery rate was 87 percent lower than the rate in the most-restrictive areas.