Is That a Gun in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy About Concealed Weapons?

Proponents of legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons generally feel that such laws deter crime and, in cases when the deterrent effect doesn't kick in, enable citizens to defend themselves and

Jul 12, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Proponents of legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons generally feel that such laws deter crime and, in cases when the deterrent effect doesn't kick in, enable citizens to defend themselves and others. Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Cincinnati, is so confident of this that he's crafted a bill to allow everyone to carry concealed weapons right away, without background checks, licensing or firearms training of any kind.

Rep. Jim Aslanides, R-Coshocton, utilizing more caution than his colleague, has included in his own bill of provisions for background checks and training courses prior to licensure.

This latest push to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons in Ohio comes at the tail end of the National Rife Association's incredibly successful, 14-year legislative campaign to arm this country and, according to some NRA detractors, to boost lagging handgun sales. Of the 44 states that now allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, 30 issue permits to anyone who passes the state's licensing requirements and 13 allow the licensing authority to decide whether an applicant needs a permit. Only Vermont agrees with Brinkman and eschews all licensing.

In the last few years, Yale University senior research scholar John Lott has, perhaps more than anyone, advanced the NRA's concealed weapons effort. While a fellow at the University of Chicago, Lott co-authored a study with David Mustard entitled Crime, Deterrence and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns, which was funded by the decidedly libertarian John M. Olin Foundation. By examining the occurrence of criminal activity both before and after the introduction of laws allowing concealed handguns, Lott and Mustard attempted to quantify the impact of these laws on crime.

According to this analysis, murders fell by an average of 8.5 percent, rapes by 5 percent and aggravated assaults by 7 percent after people were permitted to carry concealed handguns.

Since producing this study and expanding it into a book, More Guns, Less Crime, Lott has become the de facto spokesman for proponents of legalizing concealed weapons and, as such, he recently testified before Ohio lawmakers. But, although Lott's findings are frequently cited by the NRA and many politicians, his statistical methods have come under significant fire from other researchers.

For example, Carnegie Mellon University researchers Daniel Black and Daniel Nagin believe that Lott's compilation of county-level data into a nationwide analysis conceals many pertinent results.

"Murders decline in Florida but increase in West Virginia," wrote Black and Nagin after analyzing the data from each state independently. "Assaults fall in Maine but increase in Pennsylvania."

Suspecting that one state might have fit Lott's model particularly well and thus dominated his results, Black and Nagin dug deeper into Lott's analysis. By excising Florida from the mix, the researchers discovered that Lott's estimated impact on the reduction of rape and murders is almost entirely dependent on the inclusion of that state.

If concealed weapons truly reduce crime, the results should consistently indicate that, even with one or several states removed from the analysis. Citing this problem and numerous other methodological improprieties, Black and Nagin concluded that Lott's study was too fragile to use as a basis for public policy.

Additionally, economic researchers William Bartley and Mark Cohen questioned Lott's decision to exclude from his analysis county-years — crime-reporting years for a specific county — during which no crimes were reported. Bartley and Cohen included these county-years, nearly 40 percent of the total number of observations, in their analysis and discovered that concealed weapons had no impact on homicides.

The statistical battle continues to rage over concealed weapons. Studies examining the same data often produce conflicting results, some concluding that concealed weapons reduce crime, others finding that no such correlation exists, and still others linking concealed weapons to increases in crime. Since each of these scholarly works sounds compelling to the uninitiated, how do we know which is the most accurate? How do we know if concealed weapons are good for society?

The answer to these questions certainly lies beyond the scope of this column, perhaps in a meta-study. It should be noted, however, that, of all these studies, John Lott's controversial work has garnered the most attention and is the one held up by the NRA as the reason for passing its concealed weapons agenda. To their credit, Ohio politicians have not yet followed other states' lawmakers by unquestioningly believing this questionable study.