Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What If We Could Test The Effect Of More Guns And More Carry Permits?

Few things in American life are more controversial than guns.  The debate is polarized between two groups: Gun rights advocates, who say that more guns and more concealed carry of firearms by law abiding citizens will reduce violent crime and gun control advocates who say that more guns and more concealed carry will result in more crime, more deaths and an increased rate of violent crime.  These two positions are light years apart - how are we to know which one is correct?

What if we could do an experiment in which we greatly increased the number of guns sold and the number of concealed carry permits.  What if we conducted this experiment over a period of nearly 30 years.  Wouldn't that go a long way toward settling the argument between these two opinions? 
Of course it would!

Well, guess what?  This experiment has already been completed.  In the last 25 years exactly what is described in the paragraph above has been done.  First, let's look at the details of the "experiment", and then we will look at the results.

Gun Sales and Ownership

How many gun sales have their been in the last 30 years?  How can we determine this?

The most accurate gauge we have is the number of background checks run through the National Instant Check System or NICS for short.  NICS began doing checks in November of 1998 and we have date through November of 2013.  The total number of checks run during that time were 191,032,240.  We know that some of these checks would be for thinks like CCW permits and others would be for used firearms being resold, which if previously sold in the US would not result in an increase in the civilian gun supply.  So, let's be conservative and use 80% of that figure as the increase in the gun supply.  This means that in this 15 year period, 153 million new firearms entered the US civilian supply.  That's a bit less than one new firearm for every two Americans.  Of course, if we had figures back another 15 years, at least another 75-100 million new guns were added.

Although the US inventory of firearms is hard to put into numbers, it is likely that there are at least 300 million private firearms in the country - which means that in the past 30 years the number of firearms has at least doubled.

Gun control advocates like to argue that the percentage of households owning firearms is dropping.  These figures come from telephone surveys.  The conclusion they draw from these surveys is that the number of gun owners in the country is dropping.  However, in drawing this conclusion, they ignore three very important facts:

First, they fail to take into account the fact that, largely due to divorce, the average household size is dropping.  (According to this article, single person households have almost quintupled in number from 1960, and now account for 27% of all households.) 
Therefore, if the percentage of Americans owning firearms remained the same, the percentage of households owning firearms would drop.  In fact, just for that figure to remain constant the percentage of American individuals owning firearms would have to increase significantly.  Since, at most, the percentage of firearms owning households is down only a few percent, the number of individuals owning guns is likely up, not down.

Second, they fail to take into account the fact that more and more gun owners are simply inclined to lie when a stranger asks them if they have a gun in their home.  They may be afraid of theft or just don't figure a stranger on the other end of the phone - who could be anyone - has any right to have that information.  The more the drums beat for gun control, the more people will lie when asked that question by a survey taker.

Finally, we must remember that guns last a very long time.  When properly cared for, as much as three generations or more.  People can only use so many firearms, and frequently sell or give away to relatives what they no long want or need.  It simply is not believable that the number of guns increase by 150 million in the last 15 years without an increase in the number of gun owners.

Expansion of Concealed Carry

Progression of Concealed Carry
In the past 30 years, the number of people in the US holding concealed carry permits has quite simply exploded.  In the mid-1980s few states issued concealed carry permits, and most of those that did so on a "may issue" basis - meaning that a person could meet all the requirements for training and background checks and still be denied a permit for any or no reason.  In the last 30 years, 42 states have adopted a "shall issue" system - meaning that if a person meets all the background check and training requirements they must be issued a permit.

How many permits have been issued?  There are no national figures, but according to this article, 1.4 million permits are currently outstanding in Florida alone.  Estimates for the entire country range from 6 million to 10 million.   As of 2015, the generally accepted figure is 12-13 Million.

So, there is no question that in the last 30 years, the number of firearms and carry permits have skyrocketed.

The Results

If gun control advocates are correct about more guns meaning more murders and more gun crime (Assaults, etc.), than we should have seen a massive increase in those crimes.  If they are right about concealed carry resulting in more shootings and more murders, than the massive increase in people carrying firearms should have caused even greater increases in murders and shootings.  If gun rights activists are correct, we should have seen a decrease in crime and shootings.

So, what happened?

Let's look at data from the Pew Research Center:
First of all, firearms homicides have been cut in half.  That's right, more guns and more concealed carry resulted in a nearly 50% reduction in murders with guns.  This is exactly what gun rights activists predicted would happen.

Non-fatal gun crimes have decreased even more - they are down by 75%.  This a huge reduction, and is totally inconsistent with the gun control lobby's arguments.  It is, however 100% consistent with the gun rights position.

What about all violent crime?  If gun rights activists are correct, then we should have seen a massive decrease in violent crime - and that is exactly what we see.

OK what about firearms accidents?  With more guns and more people carrying guns have we seen an increase in firearms accidents?

According to statistics from the National Safety Council:

Unintentional fatality rates involving firearms remain at their lowest levels in history — 0.2 per 100,000 population. Over the past 10 years, the unintentional firearm fatality rate per 100,000 population has declined by 33 percent; since the beginning of record-keeping in 1903, this rate has declined by 94 percent!

The CDC Agrees With The National Safety Council
Firearms Accidents Are Decreasing

What about accidents involving children?  They have to be up with all those guns and so many people carrying them, right?  Wrong!

That's right, as the supply of handguns has increased, the number of fatal firearms accidents has dropped - by 600%!

How Law Abiding Are CCW Permit Holders?

The Violence Policy Center issues reports in which they claim that CCW permit holders frequently commit murder.  The only problem is they include people who were only charged and later found to be not guilty and count the same incidents as many as three times.  The problems with their so called "research" can be found here.  Sadly, many media sources simply repeat these figures without doing even a basic fact check.

Instead of looking at only homicides, the best gauge of how law abiding permit holders are is the rate at which permits are revoked.  After all, when someone commits a felony, or even a lessor crime like drunk driving, their permit will be revoked.  Check out this data table:

So, the highest rate of revocation was 1.2 percent, all other states have revocation rates less than 1% - and all but one of the other states have revocation rates below .3%.  Minnesota's rate of revocation was only .03%.  Remember, these revocations do not equal the number of CCW holders convicted of crimes, they represent those that did something or had something happen that made them no longer eligible for a permit.  An example could be someone who developed mental illness and self reported.  The state would list that as a revocation.

OK, but was was the effect on crime?  Well, four out of six states had reductions in violent crimes of between 20% and 31%.  Minnesota's 8.0% increase was the big exception, caused mostly by an increase in assaults which has since declined.  Michigan had a 1.4% increase, but also issued very few permits in relation to their population, lessening the impact upon crime.

Next, how do crime rates in "shall issue" states compare to those in "may issue' states?  Well, that's been looked at too:

So, in most states where CCW permits are available to the average person, crime drops.  Additionally, in states with highly restrictive gun laws crime is not lower, it is significantly higher.

Again, the anti-gun rights crowd "cooks the books" to make it appear that gun crime is actually higher in states with "more permissive" gun laws.  How do they do this?  Usually by using the term "gun deaths", rather than showing the actual crime rate.  Most of these "gun deaths" are mostly suicides, not homicides.  They are tragedies, but not crimes.  Lumping them together with deaths that result from the criminal misuse of firearms is just not honest.

That said, it is true that in areas with high gun ownership rates, more people use them to commit suicide.  They do so for the same reason that San Francisco residents are more likely to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge than residents of L.A. - it's available.  But does firearms availability have much of an impact on suicide rates?

Unbelievably, some anti-gun rights activists actually argue that owning a firearm somehow makes you suicidal.  So, let's consider how some other nations where firearms are virtually banned, or highly restricted, compare to the United States (highest rate of gun ownership in the world) and Switzerland (third highest rate of gun ownership in the world).

Notice that all but one of these nations with much more restrictive gun laws have higher suicide rates than the United States and Switzerland.  The fact that firearms are not available only changes the method people use to kill themselves, it does not prevent people from doing so. 

The one exception is the United Kingdom - in which only 4% of households own firearms - which has a suicide rate nearly identical to the US even though the US has over ten times as many gun owning households.  Switzerland, with approximately 29% of households having a firearm in the home, has essentially the same rate of suicide as the UK and US.  Clearly firearms availability plays no role in the number of suicides.  Culture is likely the biggest factor.

Clearly, those who wish to end their own lives will find a way.  Many countries in which there are no private firearms have very high rates of suicide - while the UK, US and Switzerland, which have very different rates of gun ownership, have nearly the same rate of suicide.  Only one conclusion is possible: While firearms are used to commit suicide, their absence does not in any way prevent them.

Conclusion: Using suicides to boost "gun death" figures is highly deceptive, not only because suicides are not crimes, but because they are but one method of suicide and there is zero evidence that the presence or absence of firearms affects the rate of suicide in any way. 

So, the result of our "experiment" are very clear:

More guns equal less crime, not more.

More concealed carry permits are associated with lower crime rates.

Firearms are used in many suicides, but they do not cause suicides.  Using them to pad a statistic used only by the gun control movement is highly deceptive.

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