by Sarah Thompson, M.D.
(Originally published in the American Gun Review)
In recent years, the right of law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms for purposes of self-defense has become a hot and controversial topic. Claims have been made citing everything from "the presence of a firearm in the home increases the risk of homicide by 43 times" to "there are up to 2.5 million defensive uses of private firearms per year, with up to 400,000 lives saved as a result" There are people who feel endangered by the presence of a gun nearby and other people who feel vulnerable when not carrying a gun on their person. Some law enforcement agents welcome the increasing numbers of lawfully armed citizens while others view them as a deadly threat. What and where is the truth in all of this disagreement, and what are the implications for public policy?
Prior to Prohibition, there was virtually no federal gun control, and no concept of guns being "evil". Guns were seen as a threat to society only when they were possessed by blacks, and the history of gun control closely parallels the history of racism in this country. Guns were simply tools, useful for protecting one's livelihood and property, obtaining food for one's family, recreation, and when necessary, self-defense. The gun culture was an accepted and respected part of American life.
However, in a situation similar to the one we face today, Prohibition gave birth to a criminal subculture which depended on violence and guns, terrorizing law abiding citizens. After Prohibition was repealed, these criminal organizations remained. Rather than attacking crime and criminals, the government passed the National Firearms Act in 1934, which put a $200 "transfer tax" (about $4000 in 1996 dollars) on certain guns, particularly machine guns and short barreled shotguns. (For comparison, a short-barreled shotgun cost only about $5!) The Federal Firearms Act followed in 1938, which required firearms dealers to obtain licenses, and started a new federal bureaucracy to "control guns".
The war on guns again escalated after the assassinations of President Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and the Rev. Martin Luther King in the 1960's. This resulted in the Federal Firearms Act of 1968 which, when compared word for word to the Nazi weapons laws of 1938, is almost identical. Most recently, the attempted assassination of President Reagan and the wounding of his Press Secretary James Brady, and the escalation of violent, firearms-related crimes due to the failed "War on Drugs", have led to an intensification of the "War on Guns". We now have innumerable state and local laws restricting gun ownership, carrying, use, and even appearance, along with federal laws such as the Brady Act and the impending "Brady II".
To enforce these laws, the government needed to get "the people" to support them, to willingly give up their Second Amendment rights and their right to self-defense. To do this, it recruited powerful spokespeople, primarily doctors and the media, to convince people that guns were bad and needed to be banned. Doctors, at least until recently, were highly respected professionals, scientists whose words were above questioning. The same was true of the elite medical journals. Most prestigious of all were the revered doctors and scientists who worked at the huge federal institutes of research. To their enduring shame, some of these doctors were co-opted into helping the government in its "War on Guns".
Doctors, of course, are not superhuman and they have weaknesses like everyone. Many well-meaning doctors just didn't analyze correctly what they were seeing, and didn't bother to ask the right questions, since they had been trained to obey medical authorities. For example, doctors who work in emergency rooms see the horrors that misuse of guns can create. They dedicate their lives to saving lives, and watching people, especially young people, die of gunshot wounds is extremely painful. This makes it easy for them to be swayed by emotion and blame the gun instead of the person who misused it. Of course they never see the people who use guns safely and responsibly, and they never see the people whose lives were saved by defensive gun use. It's a very one-sided view.
At the same time, there were other doctors who saw the huge amounts of money being poured into biased gun research and saw the opportunity to get grant money, have their work published, or become famous. All this required was designing research that aided the government's pre-conceived policy of "proving" that guns were bad in order to disarm the populace. In my opinion there is only one term that applies to people who sell their integrity and their credentials for fame and profit.
Thus for the past ten years we have been bombarded with medical "experts" proclaiming that guns were the cause of nearly everything wrong in society. The media gave tremendous coverage to these studies, and reinforced them with emotional and melodramatic stories of lives ruined by guns - by inanimate guns, not by criminals, carelessness, or their own stupidity. People, especially people raised in urban areas who had no experience with guns, believed these stories. No doubt you've heard these claims, and maybe even worried that invoking your Second Amendment rights was a bad idea.
Many of these studies were funded by the
One common excuse for gun control, designed to sound scientific,
is that guns are a public health problem, that guns are "pathogens"
(germs) which must be eliminated to eliminate the "disease" of gun
violence. This simply is not true. To be true, the presence of a gun would
cause the disease (violence) in all those exposed to it, and in its absence,
violence should not be found. (Every physician is taught the criteria for
determining what is or isn't a pathogen early in medical school, so this is
inexcusable.) If all those exposed to firearms attempted homicide, our streets
truly would be running with blood. Approximately half of all American households
own guns, yet few people are involved with homicide or other gun misuse. There are approximately 230
million guns in the
One often quoted study is the Sloan-Kellerman
comparison of Seattle and Vancouver, published in the "New England Journal
of Medicine". Their methodology was simplistic and merely compared the
homicide rates in the two cities, then assumed the lower rate in
Another study by Loftin claimed to show
Perhaps the most often quoted myth about the risks of gun ownership is that having a gun in one's home increases one's risk of homicide by a factor of 43. This study, by Kellerman , is full of errors and deceit, and has been widely discredited. Yet the 43 times figure continues to be repeated until it has now achieved the status of "common knowledge". Among the errors, Kellerman did not show that even ONE victim was killed with the gun kept in the home. In fact, at least 49% of the victims were killed by someone who did not live in the home and probably had no access to guns kept there. He assumed that the victim of the crime was the one killed, ignoring the possibility that it was the criminal, not the victim, who was killed. Finally, the study showed that substance abuse, family violence, living alone, and living in a rented home were all greater predictors of homicide than was gun ownership. Curiously, the authors have refused to make their data available to other researchers who wish to evaluate the study. Yet, as I mentioned before, this study was funded with our tax dollars.
Fortunately, these fraudulent researchers at the NCIPC were finally exposed last year by a coalition of physicians and criminologists who testified before the House appropriations committee. As a result, the NCIPC's funding for so-called "gun research" was cut from the budget. Of course there were people doing well-designed, accurate research on guns and violence during this period as well, people such as Don Kates, David Kopel, Gary Kleck, James Wright, Peter Rossi, Jay Simkin, Aaron Zelman, and others. But they weren't doctors, they weren't supported by the government, and the media totally ignored them. They were criminologists, sociologists, lawyers, and their studies weren't considered important, especially by the medical establishment.
Gary Kleck's book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America , was published in 1991, and received a prestigious criminology award. Although it was generally ignored by both the media and the medical researchers, it was a turning point. At last there was a comprehensive, unbiased assessment of the issues surrounding guns and violence that was available to lay people and researchers alike. In 1995 there was another breakthrough when Kleck and Gertz's study "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun" was published. This study is the first one devoted specifically to the subject of armed self-defense. Of the nearly 5000 respondents, 222 reported a defensive gun use within the past 12 months and 313 within the past 5 years. By extrapolating to the total population, he estimated there are about 2.2 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses by civilians each year, with 1.5 to 1.9 million involving handguns! 400,000 of these people felt the defensive use of a gun "almost certainly" prevented a murder. This is ten times the total number of firearms deaths from all causes in a year! Clearly the risk of allowing civilians to arm themselves for self-defense pales in comparison to the huge numbers of lives saved.
The Lott and Mustard Study
Now, in the words of David Kopel,
"All of the research about concealed-carry laws has been eclipsed by a
comprehensive study by
This study goes far beyond any previous study both in its design
and in the comprehensive data collected. Most studies of handgun effects on
crime or violence use either time series or cross- sectional data. Time series
data means that you look at a particular area (for example Salt
Cross-sectional data refers to comparing two or more different
areas at the same time. The accuracy of these studies depends on how well the
areas are matched, and how well the differences between them are controlled for
in the study. As we saw with the
The Lott study solves these problems by using cross sectional and
time series data. They
studied every county in the
The numbers of arrests and types of crimes were provided by the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, while the information on population was collected from the Census Bureau. Additional information was obtained from state and county officials whenever possible. Other factors which could affect the results such as changes in the laws involving the use of firearms, or sentencing enhancement laws were either eliminated as possibilities or controlled for statistically.
The results of this study show that violent crimes (murder, rape, aggravated assault) decrease dramatically when "shall issue" laws are passed. At the same time, property crimes (auto theft and larceny) increase slightly. This can be explained by habitual criminals changing their preferred method of crime. It makes sense that criminals would switch from crimes where they must confront the victim and thus may get shot, to crimes of stealth where they are much less likely to confront an armed victim. Certainly a small increase in property crimes is a small price to pay for a large savings in human life and health.
The statistics are dramatic. Whenever concealed carry laws went
into effect in a county during this 16 year period, murders fell by 8.5%, rapes
by 5%, and aggravated assaults by 7%. If, in 1992, all states had enacted "shall
issue" laws, murders in the
It means that the bleeding heart gun control advocates, the Sarah Brady types weeping about dead children, and our legislators and presidents who support them, are directly responsible for the deaths of over 1500 Americans and the rapes of over 4,000 innocent women every single year!
The anti-gunners are unable to find any scientific flaws or errors of analysis in this study. Instead they have attacked the researchers personally, just as they did to the doctors who dared speak the "politically incorrect" truth. There is no place for name-calling in either scientific research or in setting policy that effects millions of lives.
Anti-gunners might ask if allowing concealed carry would cause an
increase in accidental deaths. However, the entire number of accidental deaths
Anti-gunners use the argument that if concealed carry were
enacted, every minor fender-bender or disagreement would turn into a shoot-out.
Over 300,000 permits have
been issued in
In 1993, private citizens accidentally killed 30 innocent people who they thought were committing a crime, while police killed 330 innocent people. Given the nature of police work, this is not an entirely fair comparison. However, it clearly shows the public can be trusted with concealed pistols.
Another finding is that people who carry concealed handguns protect not only themselves and their families, but the public in general, even that part of the public that protests most loudly against guns. Since by definition a concealed weapon is hidden, a criminal has no way of knowing if a prospective victim is armed, and is therefore less likely to commit a violent crime against any given person.
This is particularly important for women. Women are the victims of a disproportionate number of violent crimes. A woman who carries a gun has a much greater deterrent effect on crime than does a man. Women are usually smaller and weaker than their attackers, and the presence of a firearm equalizes this imbalance. Because the imbalance between a woman and her attacker is much greater, the benefits of carrying are also much greater. A woman carrying a gun decreases the murder rate for women by 3-4 times the amount a man carrying a gun decreases the murder rate for men.
While numerous studies have attempted to quantify the cost of firearms related deaths and injuries, this is the first paper to study the economic benefits of allowing concealed carry. For the sake of consistency, the authors based their figures on estimates for the cost of various crimes used by a National Institute of Justice study published in 1996. Costs included loss of life, lost productivity, medical bills, property losses, as well as losses related to fear, pain, suffering, and decreased quality of life.
These figures are based on jury trial awards, which may not be the best way to estimate economic loss. However they are the figures used in anti-gun studies and so the authors chose to use them to more clearly illustrate the economic benefits of gun ownership. The reduction in violent crime caused by concealed weapons permits provides an economic gain of $6.6 billion, compared to a much smaller economic loss of $417 million due to the increase in property crimes. The net gain is still $6.2 billion!
These results may seem like ordinary common sense. Other results
seem to go against "common wisdom". For example, it has been
traditional to have the most restrictive gun laws in high population, high
crime, urban areas such as
But this study shows that the effect of allowing concealed carry is much greater in high population counties and in high crime counties. For example, the murder rate in very large cities drops by 12% when CCW is passed, while it drops by only about 1.6% in an average-sized city. Data for rural areas in unreliable since the murder rates in most rural areas are so low that accurate statistical studies cannot be done. An increase from one murder per year to two would show up as a 100% increase in the murder rate, which is misleading when compared to cities with daily murders. However, consistent with the earlier comments on criminals switching to "safer" methods of crime, the increase in property crimes in urban areas is also greater than the increase in rural areas.
Contrary to frequently espoused theories about causes of crime, real per capita income showed only a small, though statistically significant, correlation with both violent crimes and property crimes. It would appear that living in a high population density area may contribute more to crime than does poverty, although this requires more study.
Another finding which deserves comment is that the presence of young, black males increases the rate of property crime by 22% and violent crime by 5%. However, these numbers cannot be accepted completely at face value, nor should they be used to justify racism. The history of gun control in this country reflects the history of racism. The first state and local firearms laws were designed primarily to disarm blacks , and enough damage has already been done. It is necessary to take into account studies showing that young black males are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for crimes, and that they are disproportionately victims of crimes. In addition, they tend to live in high population areas and have low incomes, both of which are independent factors for increased crime. Finally, in view of recent allegations that the CIA deliberately introduced drugs, guns, and thus crime, into inner city black neighborhoods , more study is necessary before any definite conclusions can be reached. Neither Professor Lott nor I believe that race is a cause of crime.
Lott does not just study the effects of concealed carry on crime; he also studies the effects of other forms of deterrence. One of the most surprising findings is that the arrest rate has the most consistent effect on crime. It appears that merely being arrested, independent of subsequent conviction or prison sentences, is the single greatest deterrent to crime. This is true for both violent crime and property crime. Lott attributes this to the social consequences of arrest, such as embarrassment, shame, loss of jobs, etc. This is particularly true of arrests for rape. It is also possible that the reality that they may be caught and punished deters many would-be criminals before they become fully committed to a criminal lifestyle.
Conviction is also a deterrent, but has a smaller effect than arrest. Enhanced sentencing laws for using a firearm in the commission of a crime were shown to be ineffective except in the case of aggravated assault, where they result in a 4% decrease. Likewise, no clear correlation between longer prison sentences and a decrease in crime was found. However, because prison sentencing guidelines and release guidelines changed frequently and rapidly during the time period studied, because there is often a significant lag time between commission of the crime and eventual sentencing, and because data collection in this area is not good, it requires more study before firm conclusions can be drawn.
While it is generally a bad idea to base policy on the results of a single study, the Lott and Mustard study is so well designed and well controlled that it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue with their findings. In addition, their results agree with those of previous researchers, most notably Kleck and Gertz.
Two findings stand out above all. Concealed carrying of firearms by citizens with no prior felony record or history of severe mental illness decreases violent crime, providing a large benefit both to the individuals who carry and the public as a whole. Second, arrests by law enforcement officers have a large deterrent effect on crime, while conviction has a lesser, but still important, effect.
The obvious conclusion is that concealed carry provides a very large benefit to society in terms of lives saved, violent assaults and rapes prevented, and economic savings. At the same time misuse of legally concealed weapons and accidental handgun deaths from concealed weapons are almost non-existent. Thus every effort should be made to facilitate concealed carry by law-abiding citizens. "Shall issue" permit laws should be adopted by all those states that have not yet done so. In particular, large, urban areas should actively encourage arming their good citizens and definitely should not prevent or discourage them from carrying concealed weapons.
Regulations such as gun-free zones which serve only to disarm and/or harass gun owners are counterproductive and should be eliminated at local, state and federal levels. The Supreme Court has already found gun-free school zones unconstitutional and the justices should uphold this finding in light of the current administration's repeated attempts to enact this misguided legislation. Concealed carry permits should be accepted on a reciprocal basis by all states, just as driver's licenses are, under the full faith and credit act of the Constitution.
In view of the negligible incidence of negative events resulting from concealed carry, further studies are indicated to determine whether the extensive background checks and training requirements which most states demand are even necessary. It may be that "Vermont-style", i.e. universal concealed carry without need for a permit, is more appropriate and would remove both the financial disincentives to lawful carry as well as decrease the demand on the often overworked staff of state permitting agencies and the FBI. Further, the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms, and many people (including the author) consider the requirement for a permit, which gives them "permission" to exercise what is already an enumerated right to be both unconstitutional and offensive.
Because the beneficial effect of women carrying concealed weapons far outweighs that of men carrying, women should be encouraged to carry, and special classes designed to teach women how to safely use, maintain and carry weapons, along with other self-defense techniques, need to be developed and made widely available. Learning to protect oneself from crime and violence is as important to a woman's health as is learning to detect breast cancer or prevent heart disease. The psychological benefits to women of feeling safe are very significant, but have yet to be studied scientifically.
In many areas, including the
Armed citizens and police who are able to cooperate have a synergistic effect on decreasing crime. Both groups need to acknowledge this, accommodate to the changes in the laws, stop competing, and learn to respect and trust each other. Law enforcement agencies, working with citizens' groups, must develop clear written policies for police and armed citizen interactions and disseminate these policies widely. The self-sufficient, self-protecting gun culture must be restored to its rightful place of respect in society, not demonized as a hotbed of terrorists. The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms must be unequivocally upheld.
Those who wish to disarm the populace of this country must be exposed for the frauds they are and held responsible morally, if not legally, for the deaths and suffering created by their misguided policies. In the four years since 1992, those who preach gun control have contributed to the deaths of at least six thousand innocent people whose lives they have sworn to protect and whose freedoms they have sworn to uphold.
In another distressing development, some people who don't like Lott's findings (although they have been able to find no grounds to dispute them), have resorted to attacking Professor Lott and his motivations personally, and a few have even resorted to threats of death or violence . Clearly these people have no more respect for the First Amendment than they do for the Second, and have no idea of the principles that have made this country great. One of the most frightening aspects of this behavior is that the gun control advocates, who claim to be pacifists, who claim to have "our best interests" at heart, are willing to resort to actual threats of murder to suppress evidence that contradicts their dangerous agenda. Are these not the very same people who claim that "even one death is too many"?
Physicians must cease to be propaganda agents for the anti-gunners and must begin to work with experts in other fields including sociology, criminology, law, and economics to further define the causes, and appropriate solutions, to our current crime problems. Fortunately this is already beginning to happen under the auspices of such groups as Doctors for Integrity in Policy Research, Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, the Lawyers Second Amendment Society, the Independence Institute, the Cato Institute, and Academics for the Second Amendment.
Our national gun policy must be reversed. To quote Lott: "Our study is the first to provide direct empirical evidence of the Brady Law's effect on crime rates - and we found just the opposite (of the intended) result: The law's implementation is associated with more aggravated assaults and rapes." The implementation of the recently passed law preventing those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from ever owning a firearm will undoubtedly contribute to the worsening of this situation. Since both parties are often arrested and charged in domestic disputes, this law will prevent those women who are most in need of effective means of self defense from obtaining firearms.
We must all remember that gun control is often a prelude to
dictatorship and genocide, and that genocide has claimed nearly 56 million
lives in this century alone. It can happen here, and it will happen here if we,
as responsible citizens, do not take the responsibility for providing for our
own self-defense against crime and tyranny. The Lott and Mustard study is
available online, or by calling
© Sarah Thompson, M.D.