Concealed carry, California and the 9th Circuit’s misrepresentation of the facts

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Thursday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 7-4 decision that Americans don’t have a right to carry concealed handguns for protection. Since California bans people from openly carrying guns, their decision amounted to prohibiting people from carrying guns at all (whether openly or concealed).

It is clear that a judge’s political affiliation determines whether he thinks that people have a right to defend themselves.  Democratic judges are now moving to overturn recent Supreme Court decisions that struck down bans on guns.

Last year, about 0.24 percent of adult Californians had a concealed handgun permit.  In the rest of the U.S., the rate was 24 times higher, for a rate of 5.8 percent.

In many parts of California, it is essentially impossible to get a permit.  In San Francisco County, just four people (0.0005 percent of the adult population), got a permit in 2015. That is an improvement over 2012, when just two permits were granted — one of which was to the sheriff’s personal attorney.

Los Angeles has a slightly higher rate of 0.007 percent. But all of the permits went to judges, reserve deputies, and very wealthy donors to the Los Angeles Sheriff's campaign fund.  Clearly, this isn’t the same thing as letting civilians defend themselves.

Police are probably the single most important factor in stopping crime.  But police understand the simple fact that they virtually always arrive on a scene after the crime has already occurred. Police strongly support permitted concealed handguns not only for this reason but also because they know how important it is for their own safety.

PoliceOne, the largest private organization of police officers, surveyed its 450,000 members in March 2013. Ninety one percent of respondents expressed support for relatively liberal concealed handgun laws.

Americans also agree.  An October 2015 Gallup poll found that a 56 to 41 percent margin of Americans believe that increased concealed carry leads to improved safety.

The majority in the 9th Circuit's ruling on Thursday made a sorry attempt to cite two economics papers, which they claim, show that permitted concealed carry causes an increase in some violent crime.  In fact, one of the papers showed no statistically significant changes and the other actually showed a statistically significant drop in crime after the right-to-carry laws were passed.

One paper by Jens Ludwig examined whether homicides of adults who could carry concealed handgun permits fell faster than the deaths for juveniles who aren’t allowed to carry, but just like previous work that I had done with David Mustard, there was no statistically significant difference that people in the two groups are killed (please see page 51).

But no matter who carries a permitted concealed handgun, people in both groups can benefit.

Research has found that as more people carry:

- Some criminals have stopped committing crimes.

- Some have moved to commit crime in places where permitted concealed handguns weren’t yet allowed.

- Some criminals switched out of crimes like robberies where there was direct contact between victims and criminals and into crimes like larceny where victims aren’t directly threatened.

In the other paper for the Brookings Institution by John Donohue, the results clearly show that violent crime, murder, and robbery fall after the law is adopted.

What the court doesn’t seem to understand is that the impact of the laws are being measured simultaneously in two different ways and that you can only see the impact on crime by looking at the net effect of those two measures. When you do that the effect for the law during its first year is not statistically significant, but the trend showed a clearly growing significant benefit over time.  And this is what you might expect as the number of people with concealed handgun permits, and thus the risk to the criminals committing crime, increases over time.

The figure here from my book "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010, 3rd edition) graphs out a different set of estimates from that paper.  The key thing here isn’t that some of estimated impacts on murder are initially positive, but, even in those cases, how they are less positive than they were before.

Among published, peer-reviewed papers by economists and criminologists, about two-thirds find that concealed carry is associated with a decline in violent crime rates.  The remaining papers find no change in murder, rape, or robbery rates.

So far, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” includes the right to carry for self-defense.

Given this right, California’s prohibition of both open and concealed carry would seem to be unconstitutional. But in this debate, the Bill of Rights has become secondary to political preferences.

If you look at all the eleven 9th Circuit Court judges who made the ruling on Thursday, 8 were Democrats and 3 were Republicans.  One Democratic judge voted with the Republicans.  Seven of the judges claimed that there is no right for people to defend themselves outside their homes with concealed handguns, 4 said that there is such a right.  That partisan split is seen time after time in these Second Amendment cases.

This unfortunately holds true of some members of the U.S. Supreme Court, too.  If given the chance, the four liberal Justices currently on the Court are almost certain to vote to overturn the Heller and McDonald decisions, which struck down gun bans in D.C. and Chicago.

Hillary Clinton has clearly indicated that she would appoint new Justices who would also vote in favor of such a ruling.

This case is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court.  Whether people are allowed to defend themselves outside their homes in the eight relatively restrictive states such as California hangs in the balance with this election.