Do Good Guys With Guns Stop Bad Guys? The Violence Policy Center Says No

The Violence Policy Center has just released an update on its ongoing report about shootings committed by individuals with concealed-carry permits and the information deserves to be studied in detail.  The issuance of CCW has been a hot-button issue for the ‘gun-rights’ movement ever since Gary Kleck published a study in 1994 which claimed that more than 2.5 million crimes were prevented every year by Americans walking around with guns.  The gun industry and its allies like the NRA jumped on this still-unproven argument because, as Wayne-o said after Sandy Hook, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  And since anyone with a concealed-carry permit is, by definition, one of the good guys, the gun industry and its supporters work overtime trying to get concealed-carry accepted as the law of the land.

The CCW movement has made great strides over the past twenty years.  Back in 1990, less than 20 states gave residents concealed-carry permits except in response to applications which cited specific business need (security guards, carrying cash, etc.)  Since that time, most state legislatures have passed laws that make concealed-carry no more onerous than what is required legally to keep a gun in the home, and a majority of CCW permits are issued with little or no training required at all.  Not only is it easier to get CCW in most states, but a concealed gun can usually be carried into shopping malls, restaurants and bars.

vpc                Even though violent crime rates have tumbled by more than half over the last twenty years, there’s no necessary connection, despite what the gun-rights lobby says, between this trend and the expansion of CCW, for the simple reason that more than 90% of the decline in violent crime occurred between 1993 and 2002, whereas the expansion in CCW took place largely over the last ten years.  But what appears to have increased with the spread of CCW are the number of fatal shootings by individuals who were lawful CCW-holders at the time they committed these violent acts.

I’m not surprised if more CCW permits results in more gun shootings.  After all, as the novelist Walter Mosley says, “If you walk around with a gun, it’s going to go off sooner or later.”  Where the guns seem to go off sooner rather than later is in Florida, which recorded 68 killings by CCW-holders since 2007.  This represents 10% of all CCW killings that the VPC was able to document which took place in a state that holds 3% of the nation’s total population.  Admittedly the VPC numbers are incomplete, because like most efforts to understand gun violence, the data is fragmentary and based on partial media reports.  VPC’s analysis also ignores gun suicides committed by legal gun owners, many of whom no doubt also had CCW privileges before they died.

I know many pro-gun activists who wouldn’t dispute the VPC numbers but would argue that an average of 100 fatal shootings each year by CCW-holders is a small price to pay for the thousands of fatal gun assaults that are prevented because law-abiding Americans can walk around with guns.  I have been listening to this nonsense since 1994 when Kleck first published the results of his so-called research, but it was the VPC report that made me finally try and test whether this claim is true.

The FBI has been compiling data on justifiable homicides, defined as the killing of a felon during the commission of a felony, since 1994.  In fact, since 2007, the same time-period covered by the VPC report, American civilians committed 1,023 justifiable homicides with handguns which, if you were to add CCW suicides to CCW homicides at best the whole thing would be a wash.  The NRA and its allies have steadfastly refused to recognize the FBI data on justifiable homicide because the numbers, when compared to national CCW population, are pathetically small.  No matter which way you cut it, the good guys ain’t doing such an impressive job with their guns.

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