Wednesday morning the US Senate voted on whether to allow concealed handgun permit holders to carry handguns across state lines. The legislation sponsored by Senator John Thune (R, SD) would only allow reciprocity in permitting, as anybody would still be required to obey the laws of the states that they travel in. This is the same way driver's licenses work.
Yet, gun control advocates are predicting the worst. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D, NJ) warns it is an "attempt by the gun lobby to put its radical agenda ahead of safety and security in our communities." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY) calls it a "harmful measure" that will put the public at risk. Senator Chuck Schumer (D, NY) says: "It could reverse the dramatic success we've had in reducing crime in most all parts of America."
The claims echo those made when concealed-handgun laws were originally passed, when gun control advocates warned that permit holders would lose their tempers and there would be blood in the streets.
Obviously that never happened. We now have extensive experience with concealed-handgun permit holders. In 2007, about 5 million Americans were permitted to carry concealed handguns across 48 states that let citizens carry. 39 of these states have relatively liberal right-to-carry laws that let people get permits once they pass a criminal background check, pay a fee, and in many states receive training
Take Florida, for example. Between Oct. 1, 1987, and March 31, 2009, Florida issued permits to 1,480,704 people, many of whom renewed their permits multiple times. Only 166 had their permits revoked for a firearms-related violation - about 0.01 percent.
Similarly in Texas, in 2006, there were 258,162 active permit holders. Out of these, one hundred forty were convicted of either a misdemeanor or a felony, a rate of .05 percent. That is about one-seventh the conviction rate in the general adult population, and the convictions among permit holders tend to be for much less serious offenses. The most frequent type of revocation, with 33 cases, involved carrying a weapon without their license with them.
The same pattern occurs in state after state. Permit holders lose their permits at hundredths or thousands of one percent for any type of gun related violations, and even then they are usually for relatively trivial offenses.
Gun control groups such as the Violence Policy Center and the Brady Campaign have put out reports this week that attempt to show how dangerous permit holders are. But they make several serious mistakes: they usually include arrests and not convictions and they make mistakes on whether the people have concealed handgun permits. Even in the few cases where they correctly identify problems, they never discuss the rate that permit holders violate the law.
If a permit holder fires a gun defensively and kills or wounds an attacker, even if the shooting was completely justified, they will almost always be arrested. A police officer who arrives on the scene simply can't be sure what happened until an investigation is completed. But these justified shootings are exactly why concealed handgun permits are allowed and including them as a cost of concealed handgun laws has the entire process backwards.
Even though the adoption of right-to-carry laws was highly controversial in some states, the laws were so successful that no state has ever rescinded one. Indeed, no state has even held a legislative hearing to consider rescinding concealed-carry.
Everyone wants to keep guns away from criminals. The problem is that law-abiding citizens are the ones most likely to obey the gun control laws, leaving them disarmed and vulnerable and making it easier for criminals to commit crime.
Police are extremely important in deterring crime - according to my research, the most important factor. But the police also understand that they almost always arrive after the crime has been committed.
There is a lot of refereed academic research on the impact that right-to-carry laws across the country have crime rates. While a large majority of the refereed studies by economists and criminologists find that crime rate fall after these laws are adopted and some claim to find no effect, no such studies find a bad effect on crime rates, suicides or accidental deaths.
The legislation before the senate doesn't really break new ground. Most states already recognize permits from other states: 34 states recognize Missouri's permits, 33 for Utah, 32 for Florida, 31 Texas, 26 Ohio, and 24 Pennsylvania. And there is no evidence that these reciprocity agreements have caused any problems.
Here is a prediction. Just like the original ruckus over passing concealed handgun laws, the fears about allowing people to travel with guns will soon be forgotten.