There has been some confusion over whether
people who have permits to carry concealed handguns are as law-abiding as other
Texans. Using the provocative title "License to Kill," the Violence Policy
Center recently released a report claiming that "those who do carry concealed
handguns get into trouble more often than other Texans."
While there is cause to wonder whether the
Violence Policy Center over reported the number of permit holders arrested, even
its own numbers don't justify that claim. During 1996 and 1997, the first two
years that the concealed handgun law was in effect, 163,096 people were
licensed. During that period, 263 license holders were arrested for felony
offenses, and another 683 were arrested for misdemeanor offenses. By comparison,
if permit holders had been arrested at the same rate as the average adult Texan,
they would have had 731 arrests for violence crimes and 2,202 for property
crimes. Thus, permit holders were about a third as likely to be arrested as
non-permit holders and much less likely to commit serious crimes.
The public's ultimate concern is whether permit
holders have used their concealed handguns improperly. So let's look at some
more statistics to determine that.
During 1996 and 1997, five permit holders were
arrested for felonies involving the "deadly conduct/discharge of a firearm" and
another two for the "deadly conduct/display of a firearm." Those charges were
brought in connection with four deaths. If permit holders had been arrested for
murder at the same rate as other adult Texans, 56 would have been
Equally important, relying on arrest rates
misses an important difference between permit holders and others who are
arrested for murder. While the vast majority of murder arrests end in
conviction, that hasn't been true for permit holders.
Of the four deaths mentioned, none has resulted
in a conviction. In fact, two so far have been cleared and deemed to have acted
Thirty-five other permit holders were arrested
for other felony "weapon-related offenses," but those involved the unlawful
carrying of a weapon in places such as airports and schools. None of those cases
apparently involved threats but invariably resulted from people who forgot they
had a gun with them.
Overall, the experience in Texas is similar to
that in other states. In Florida, almost 444,000 licenses were granted from 1987
through 1997. About half, 204,700, currently are licensed. Eighty-four people
lost their licenses after using a firearm in the commission of a
So far in Virginia, not a single Virginia permit
holder has been involved in a violent crime. Similar results have been observed
in Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states
for which detailed records are available.
In December, Glenn White, president of the
Dallas Police Association, summed up the typical reaction of those police
officers who opposed the concealed handgun law before its adoption: "I lobbied
against the law in 1993 and 1995 because I thought it would lead to wholesale
armed conflict. That hasn't happened. All the horror stories I thought would
come to pass didn't happen. No bogeyman. I think it has worked out well, and
that says good things about the citizens who have permits. I am a
Harris County District Attorney John Holmes
admitted he is "eating a lot of crow on this issue. It isn't something I
necessarily like to do, but I am doing it on this."
In a forthcoming book, I find evidence
indicating that concealed handgun laws save lives and reduce the threats that
citizens face from rapes, robberies and assaults. Criminals tend to attack
victims whom they perceive as weak, and guns can offset the differences in
strength and serve as an important deterrent.
People don't even have to carry a permit
themselves to benefit. The fact that criminals can't tell whether a potential
victim has a concealed gun makes them less likely to attack people in
Without a doubt, people do bad things with guns,
but guns also protect people when law enforcement officers aren't able to be
In the final analysis, one concern unites us
all: Will allowing law-abiding citizens to own guns save lives? Unfortunately,
studies like those done by the Violence Policy Center needlessly scare people
and don't move us any closer to answering that question.