MORE GUNS, NO DIFFERENCE? Mark Kleiman suggests that rates of legal gun-carrying neither increase nor decrease crime, not least because they neither increase nor decrease overall gun-carrying much.
I don’t know what to make of this, but in my area — where gun-carrying, legal or otherwise, is high — I’ve been told by law-enforcement people that (1) a very high percentage of the populace, perhaps a third, carries guns on its person or in the car; and (2) that the permitting law caused a small number of those people to get permits, and a small number of people who never carried before to do so, to no great effect overall. I don’t know how they know this (but I’ve heard the same estimate independently from several cops, so they at least think they know it), and the number seems high to me — but then, I’m a professor and my friends, only some of whom carry guns, are probably not representative. Around here, though, it seems possible that changes in gun-carrying laws haven’t changed behavior much. But it seems likely that they would make a bigger difference in jurisdictions where laws on the subject were more vigorously enforced.
What’s interesting here, though, is that the “bloodbath” and “Dodge City” predictions made by opponents of liberalized weapons laws have not borne fruit anywhere.
UPDATE: Reader John Kent emails:
I disagree with Mark Kleiman. As long as criminals understand that their intended victims may be carrying a weapon, this is usually enough to prevent a lot of their intended criminal activity. Just look what is happening in England. The criminals know the populace is now unarmed and the crime rate has climbed. I don’t have to actually carry a gun in order to benefit from the law. By having the concealed weapon law on the books, the criminals now know that I’m part of a “pack”, and not just another member of a “herd”.
I don’t know what the crime statistics show for the states that now allow the legal carrying of guns, but I have to believe that the overall perception of the population is that they “feel” safer. Individuals are now able to protect themselves, and not just rely on the state to keep them from harm.
Well, I agree — and on a societal level, recent experience in Britain and Australia, where crime has gone up after firearms confiscations, would seem to suggest that. My point was merely that concealed-carry laws are likely to have a modest effect on crime because they have a modest effect on behavior. If you required law-abiding citizens to carry guns, you’d probably see a greater decrease in crime, because that would be a greater change in behavior. And if you confiscated all guns, you’d probably see a significant increase in crime, because, again, that would be a major change. Complicating these things, of course, is that anti-gun legislation seems correlated with a decreased interest in enforcing laws against actual criminals (again, see Britain) and with a general opposition to self-defense whether armed or not (ditto) and vice versa, and those societal attitudes and changes in official behavior have an impact, too.
That’s my take anyway, though I claim no special expertise on the criminological aspects. My scholarship is all in the area of the Second Amendment, and I’m on record as saying that, for Second Amendment purposes, these kinds of considerations are not significant, just as I regard the contentious issue of whether pornography leads to more rape as unimportant for First Amendment purposes.