A new statistical analysis covering 33 US states has discovered that rather than deterring crime, right-to-carry handgun laws actually triggered a 13-15% spike in violent crime in the decade after a state adopted such laws.
The report was released in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies on Monday and is sure to fuel more debate on both sides of the gun control political spectrum.
The new report comes as New York City’s ban on taking licensed handguns outside city limits without a permit will be challenged at the US Supreme Court. So far, the court is split 5-4 in favor of judges who are amenable to expanding gun rights so they could just as easily rule favorably on the challenge.
But John Donohue, from Stanford Law School and the new study’s lead author, said such a ruling could be “a dangerous mistake to make.”
Donohue informed Buzz Feed by email, “The important takeaway is that more guns seem to lead to more crime. So it is probably wise to think in terms of appropriate controls and it would be very unwise to push the 2nd Amendment too far.”
The roots of this statistical debate can be traced to the book More Guns, Less Crime by John Lott, Jr. from the Crime Prevention Research Center. Since it was published in 1998, 11 states have adopted looser right-to-carry laws. More than 30 states actually allow one to openly carry a gun without a permit.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2017, roughly 3.1 million people in the US suffered violent crimes, robberies, rapes, and assaults. The new study then studied how right-to-carry laws affected those numbers by comparing data from 11 states that adopted those laws within the last 15 years. This created a record of 33 states that permitted concealed carry from 1981 to 2007.
Violent crime rates on those states were analyzed but were statistically controlled for the effects of incarceration rates, policing, poverty, and similar factors.
“It was really only after we had 14 more years of data and 11 additional adoptions of RTC laws that a clear picture emerged that RTC laws increase violent crime,” Donahue said.
The increase in violent crime was large for 23 of the 31 states studied. It was up by more than 24% in 10 years in Pennsylvania and almost 17% for Texas. South Dakota registered a 1.6% drop in violent crime, proving to be the exception rather than the rule.
Jailing all the people who committed these additional violent crimes would double the prison populations of the affected states.
Among the cases studied were road rage disputes, police shootings of armed civilians, bar fights, and typical arguments that turned violent.On the other hand, homicide rates or property crimes didn’t register any statistically significant change.
Crime scholars praised the findings, calling it the most complete accounting of what happens when more people are allowed to carry guns.
Lott, who authored More Guns, Less Crime, was dismissive of the new study. He contends that the majority of reports over the past 20 years have actually supported his findings. “Basically, poor areas are more likely to be affected by violent crime, so lowering barriers to permits has a bigger effect in states that do so,” Lott said, which he said the new study didn’t factor in.
But Duke University criminologist Philip Cook countered by saying that studies with better methods and data resulting in disproving old, incorrect theories are simply how science works.
“The scientific process does not always get the right answer the first time, but if it’s working well, then important findings are reviewed and tested and the truth becomes clearer,” said Cook, while admitting that those advocating the “more guns, less crime” idea will probably remain unconvinced.
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