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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Do Guns Protect Us From Crime? Here’s A Serious Study That Says No.

Sooner or later someone is going to realize that most of what the NRA claims to be the value of gun ownership simply isn’t true.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love guns, bought my first real gun when I was twelve years old and have owned hundreds ever since.  But to me guns are a hobby, like model trains and toy soldiers, and I recoil in anger and disgust whenever the gun lobby tries to invest some kind of sacred value in their existence or use.  And one of the biggest lies about gun ownership that is spun again and again is the idea that guns are an effective way to protect us against crime.

This nonsense first started making the rounds when a criminologist, Gary Kleck, published a paper in 1994 which claimed that Americans used guns several million times each year to prevent what would otherwise have been crimes. He didn’t say that gun owners shot their guns at would-be criminals; he said that gun owners let a potential criminal know that they were going up against someone with a gun.  In fact, not a single person (less than 240 in a national survey) who claimed that they used a gun in this way could prove that their account of what happened was actually true.  Not a single incident was reported to police or verified by anyone else.  And in more than half the so-called defensive gun uses (DGUs) it turned out that the so-called criminal had neither said nor done anything that indicated criminal intent or any other kind of intent.  How did the gun owner who committed the DGU know that he was preventing a crime from taking place?  He didn’t.

John Lott

John Lott

Kleck’s work was shortly supported by another research hack named John Lott whose data that he used to “prove” that concealed-carry permits resulted in less crime turned out to be data that, to be polite, perhaps didn’t exist at all.  When he was asked to produce his data by the National Academy of Sciences he couldn’t; when he produced what he claimed was “similar” data the National Academy’s analysts couldn’t replicate his findings at all. When other scholars took his substitute data and used a different methodology, the crime rates that Lott said went down actually went up.

Don’t think for one second that the inability of either Kleck or Lott to validate their research to an even minimal degree has stopped the gun lobby from promoting the idea that guns protect us from crime or has prevented the two erstwhile scholars from finding receptive audiences for continued showcasing of their work.  Kleck routinely appears in courtrooms giving depositions and expert testimony on behalf of the NRA; Lott promotes himself endlessly and shamelessly on Fox and various right-wing blogs.

Now along comes a serious scholar named Michael Siegel who continues to provide us with peer-reviewed studies on gun violence which, to put It bluntly, shows the work of Kleck and Lott to be what it really is. In 2013, Siegel and his colleagues published a detailed article which found a significant correlation between gun ownership rates and gun homicides on a state-by-state basis.  Previously, the work of Hemenway and others had demonstrated a possible link between elevated gun homicides and gun ownership on a national level; the research by Siegel and his team, focused on more state-level data, made the connection between guns and gun homicide much more specific and real.

The new study takes the state data on gun ownership and tests the correlation between gun ownership and whether the perpetrator and victim either knew each other or not.  It turns out that gun ownership did not really alter the amount of gun homicides involving people who didn’t know each other, but gun homicides were significantly higher in gun-owning households where the perpetrator and victim did.  Why didn’t the gun homicide rate decline between strangers if guns are such a good way of protecting us from crime?  Because the studies which claim this to be true aren’t studies at all; they are promotional campaigns to sell more guns.