Concealed Carry Craziness
Road rage and guns? Does concealed carry really make us safer?
Last week two Milwaukee men “traded dozens of shots in a rolling shootout through two sides of town and down a freeway,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Each driver had a state permit to carry a concealed weapon and each portrayed the other as the pistol-wielding aggressor.
It’s almost a miracle, given the fight went on with bullets flying for five miles, that no one was injured. But the incident raises a couple questions: doesn’t the law allowing concealed carry inevitably lead to incidents like this? And does concealed carry make us safer, as its proponents claim, or just the opposite?
The answer to the first question is yes, concealed carry is a factor in many road rage incidents. In Waukesha county in February, driver Michael J. Bukosky pulled a gun, a loaded seven-shot Ruger, on an unarmed driver that annoyed him. The Violence Policy Center’s Facebook page documents hundreds upon hundred of violent incidents involving concealed carry, everything from people accidentally shooting themselves to bloody murders, and the list (which goes on forever) includes many road rage incidents that escalated to gun violence.
The argument that concealed carry makes us safer is largely based on a study by economists John Lott and David Mustard, whose 1998 book, “More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws,” found there was a lower crime rate in states with a right-to-carry law. But their conclusions have been disputed by other researchers. In 2004, a committee of the National Research Council of the National Academies devoted a chapter in the report, “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” to Lott’s research and found numerous problems with his analysis. The report concluded “it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates.”
Given the many factors that can affect crime rates, trying to isolate the impact of one variable, the adoption of a concealed carry law, seems a difficult case to make. The Violence Policy Center takes a different, more fine-grained approach.
On the negative side of the ledger, the Center looked at how many people have been killed as a result of the law, with a study updated last month called “Concealed Carry Killers.” The study documents 381 incidents in 32 states since May 2007, resulting in 516 deaths involving private citizens with permits to carry concealed handguns. Twenty-four of the incidents were mass shootings, resulting in the deaths of 107 victims. Fourteen of the victims were law enforcement officers.
Any incidents of self-defense were not included in the totals. But the Center also took a look at such incidents and found that in 2010, there were only 230 justifiable homicides in the nation involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the FBI. “That same year, there were 8,275 criminal gun homicides. Using these numbers, in 2010, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 36 criminal homicides. This ratio does not take into account the thousands of lives ended in gun suicides (19,392) or unintentional shootings (606) that year.” If you include the suicides and unintentional killings, there were was one “good” killing from justifiable homicide for every 123 bad killings including homicides, suicides and accidental deaths.
This was no fly-by-night report. It analyzed data from both the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey. It used this same data base to look at how often a victim of violent crime used a gun for protection over a five year period (2007-2011) and found there were a total of 29,618,300 attempted or completed violent crimes and in only 235,700 cases did the victims use a firearm to protect themselves. In short, the victim at least attempted to use a firearm in less than one percent — just 0.8 percent — of the incidents.
The study also looked at victims attempting to protect themselves from property crimes from 2007 through 2011 and found there were 84,495,500 victims of attempted or completed property crimes and in only 103,000 cases did the victim use a gun in an attempt at self-protection. That involved just .01 percent — one tenth of one percent of all cases.
But as low as these figures are, they are likely to decline in future years, because gun ownership is in decline. You wouldn’t think so given reports of increased gun sales, but the evidence suggests these sales are mostly to people who already own guns. Yearly surveys by the National Opinion Research Center show that from 1977 to 2010, the percentage of American households that reported having any guns in the home dropped more than 40 percent. Household gun ownership hit its peak in 1977, when 54 percent of American households reported having any guns. By 2010, the figure had dropped to 32.3 percent of American households.
“While household ownership of guns among elderly Americans remained virtually unchanged from the 1970s to this decade at about 43 percent, ownership among young Americans plummeted,” the New York Times reported. Household gun ownership fell to 23 percent for those under 30 and showed a similar decline for Americans aged 30 to 44.
Indeed, when you look at who owns guns, you begin to see how it overlaps with the Republican Party. Whites are more likely to own guns than blacks, rural people (53 percent) are more likely than city dwellers (23 percent), and those without a college education are more likely to own guns than those with college or post-graduate degrees.
Wisconsin, by the way, ranks 12th among the states in gun ownership, but it’s also a leading state for hunting, which skews the results upwards. But that doesn’t mean the voters supported passage of the concealed carry law. A May 2011 survey done for the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort group, which favors gun control, found voters opposed concealed carry by 60 percent to 32 percent.
Older surveys by the Public Policy Forum (late 1990s) and the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (early 1990s) found an even higher proportion of state voters, anywhere from 79 percent to 83 percent, opposed concealed carry.
Concealed carry was one of those issues where a fervent minority that wanted the law overrode the wishes of a far-less-intense majority that opposed it.
But when you look at the long-term trends on gun ownership, that fervent minority is steadily declining. Combine that trend with this new research showing how seldom private ownership of a gun actually protects crime victims, and one could imagine future challenges to concealed carry laws.
-Household gun ownership is one thing, but what about personal gun ownership? That, too, has been plummeting, dropping from 29 percent of Americans in 1980 to 20.8 percent in 2010.
-If gun ownership is in decline, what does this say about the vaunted power of the NRA? It has claimed as many as 4.5 million members but other statistics suggest the number may be closer to 3 million, as the Washington Post has reported. Either way, it’s a very tiny percentage of the total electorate.
-There’s yet another example of the state turning down federal money, in this case, $14 million in funding for services for the disabled, including job placement.
-And Michael Horne offers a droll House Confidential on City Attorney Grant Langley.