How Could He Have Strangled Her Without a Permit to Carry a Handgun?


In an effort to rebut the idea that allowing law-abiding Americans to carry handguns in public helps prevent crime, the Violence Policy Center has begun compiling a list of homicides committed by people with carry permits. "Concealed handgun permit holders killed eight law enforcement officers and 77 private citizens (including 10 shooters who killed themselves after an attack) during the period May 2007 through October 2009," it says, based on news reports. "Contrary to the false promises of the gun lobby," says VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann, "the simple and deadly fact is that state concealed handgun systems are arming cop-killers, mass shooters, and other murderers."

Sugarmann says VPC may be missing some killers who had carry permits because it is relying on press accounts that do not necessarily note that detail. But even if the total number of homicides by permit holders is twice the number tallied by VPC, the rate is remarkably low. Thirty-nine states have "shall issue" permit policies, meaning they allow anyone who meets a set of objective criteria (such as a clean record and completion of firearms training) to carry a gun. Not all of them report the number of permits they issue, but Florida alone has more than 1.5 million permit holders, so there are several million nationwide. Seventy-five homicides (leaving out the suicides that VPC includes) over a period of more than two years in a population that size does not seem like a lot. Let's say there are a total of 5 million permit holders in the U.S. (a conservative estimate), and let's say the actual number of homicides is 150, or twice the VPC's count. That's roughly 75 a year, or 0.00002 homicide per permit holder. If you divide the total number of gun homicides in 2006 (12,800) by the entire adult population of the U.S., you get 0.00006, which suggests that permit holders commit homicide at a rate far below average (not terribly surprising, since people with criminal records can't get carry permits).

The other major problem with the VPC's list is that it includes crimes where having a permit to carry a handgun did not make a difference, such as Michael McLendon's shooting spree in Alabama last March. McLendon used rifles to kill 10 people, not a handgun, let alone one for which he had a carry permit. Even when mass murderers use handguns, the notion that they would not dare take them out in public without a carry permit is risible. So it's incorrect to say, as Sugarmann does, that "concealed handgun systems are arming cop-killers, mass shooters, and other murderers." All a permit does is make it possible to legally carry a handgun in public; when that ability does not matter—whether because the crime does not involve a handgun, does not occur in public, or is committed by someone who leaves home intent on murder—it hardly makes sense to blame the permit. The VPC list also includes an on-duty shooting by a security guard, a murder committed in the killer's home, and a murder by strangulation. If VPC's aim is to show that allowing people to carry handguns in public is a bad policy because it creates new hazards, such examples (unlike, say, a public argument involving a permit holder that ends in a deadly shooting) are irrelevant.