Guns, Politics, and Freedom
April 1, 1997

Guns, fear, loathing and public policy

F. Paul Valone


The following column was published in The Charlotte Observer on April 1, 1997 under the title “So where’s the mayhem from concealed guns?”



"Think about it:  Fist fights at football games ending in gunfire.  An ugly look on the street and somebody winding up shot dead.  Wackos transforming themselves into human arsenals.  And all with the blessing of the Great State of North Carolina."  ["Wide-open gun lunacy," Raleigh News and Observer, April 25, 1995]


Guns and murders and death, oh my.  Given dire predictions for North Carolina's concealed handgun law by dozens of columns like the one above and given the law has been on the books for sixteen months, I am compelled to ask, "So, where's the mayhem?"


By early March, North Carolina issued 26,069 concealed handgun permits to citizens who've been trained, fingerprinted and certified sane, sober and law-abiding.  Thus far, not a single permit has been revoked due to use in a crime. 


In fact, only 25 permits have been revoked at all, largely for reasons like falsifying information on the application, driving while intoxicated, or committing offenses which would be grounds for denying the permit.  (While one permit was revoked because the permit holder died, death is not grounds for revocation.  He should appeal).  In Mecklenburg County, the 1,841 permits issued have produced exactly one revocation.


No stoplight massacres, no "vigilantes looking for criminals to shoot" (or at least none who've found any).


But what of benefits?  A survey of sheriffs by the Governor's Crime Commission found four permit holders who prevented crimes without shooting a single suspect.  But the report suggests underestimation, noting "seldom do people report when they think their possession of a handgun permit has deterred a criminal."


Meanwhile, the latest figures for North Carolina show that murder, robbery, and aggravated assault have dropped dramatically from the previous year.  In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, homicides for 1996 were down by 21%. 


Yes, I know that North Carolina's decline in violence mirrors other states, and that just about everybody - including the gun control crowd - is claiming credit.  But even given the limitations of my casual observation, forecasts of a stoplight Armageddon between permit holders clearly remain unfulfilled.


North Carolina's favorable experience with its concealed handgun law is by no means unique.  A comprehensive study of all 3,054 counties in the United States  was released last year by John Lott and David Mustard of the University of Chicago.  Their conclusion?  "When state concealed handgun laws went into effect ... murders fell by 8.5 percent, and rapes and aggravated assaults fell by 5 and 7 percent."  Unlike my casual observation, they controlled for variables like demographics, economic differences, and changing enforcement of gun laws. 


Giving an ironic twist to the "if it will save just one life" argument favored by gun control forces, Lott and Mustard concluded, "If those states which did not have ... concealed gun provisions had adopted them in 1992, approximately 1,570 murders; 4,177 rapes; and over 60,000 aggravated assaults would have been avoided yearly.  On the other hand, consistent with the notion of criminals responding to incentives, we find criminals substituting ... property crimes involving stealth ... where the probabilities of contact between the criminal and victim are minimal."  Imagine that.


Lest any truth go unchallenged, however, the usual champions of intellectual dishonesty - Congressman Charles Schumer and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence - claimed the study was funded by arms manufacturer Olin Corp. (it wasn't), that the methodology was flawed (wishful thinking) and that Lott is a gun advocate (sorry guys, he's just an open-minded professor of comparative law).  Lott's most vocal critic is Stephen Teret, a professor who, when discovered passing his own anti-gun advocacy as "research," responded with an article titled, aptly enough, "So What?"


In a rational world, the success of concealed handgun laws would come as no surprise.  Our results parallel those of Florida - an urban, high crime state whose well-documented concealed handgun law dates back ten years.  Florida has issued 409,511 permits, only 76 of which were revoked for misuse of a firearm.


But in America, emotion rules and laws are formed around images of suffering children and (if gun control proponents are really lucky) the occasional mass murder.  Indeed, the dreaded "assault weapons" used in the recent Los Angeles bank robbery might have become a Clinton platform for more gun control ... if the robbers hadn't used the same type of guns smuggled into the country by Wang Jun, the Chinese arms merchant invited to one of Mr. Clinton's White House coffees.


The lesson of the concealed handgun debate is that effective public policy is based not on visions of body bags, but on good, hard facts.  Keep that in mind when some politician, in the emotional aftermath of the next grisly act of terror, begins describing which freedoms you "may no longer be able to afford."