Facts About Firearm Policy Initiative

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MYTH: Concealed handgun permit holders commit virtually no crimes
Summary:

  • Researcher John Lott claims that right-to-carry laws can’t increase violent crime rates because permit holders commit virtually no crimes.
  • Lott provides some evidence that permit holders commit fewer crimes per capita than the general population. That evidence, however, is misleading because permit holders are required to pass a background check, thereby reducing–but not eliminating–permit holders who have a criminal history.
  • Problems with Lott’s analysis include the lack of public data on many fronts including permit holders’ backgrounds, states that do not require a background check to conceal carry, improperly completed background checks on permits, and states that rely on an honor system for permit revocation.

Lott’s Claim:

In his 2020 book Gun Control Myths, Lott claims “U.S. handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding” and “Concealed handgun permit holders rarely get into any type of trouble with their concealed handguns.” Citing the 2010 edition of his book More Guns, Less Crime, Lott says concealed handgun permits are revoked at “rates of thousandths or tens of thousandths of one percent.” Lott estimates that “Out of every 100,000 permit holders, only a couple of them have had their permits revoked for a firearms-related violation. Most of these violations are trivial offenses.”

In a 2017 report authored by Lott on concealed carry permit rates, Lott disputes a study by University of Stanford researchers John Donohue, Abhay Aneja, and Kyle Weber that concluded that RTC laws increase violent crime rates. Lott argues that “Since permit holders commit virtually no crimes, right-to-carry laws can’t increase violent crime rates.” Lott says that if only thousandths of one percent of permit holders commit violent crimes, “You can’t get the increases in violent crime rates that a few of their estimates claim. To get their results, state police agencies would have to be missing around 99.4% to 99.83% of violent crimes committed by permit holders.” 

Lott further claims that police are more likely to have their permits revoked than concealed handgun permit holders. In Lott’s book Gun Control Myths, he writes “Permit holders are convicted of firearms-related violations at about 1/6th of the rate that police officers are.” In the 2017 report, Lott says concealed carry permit holders are even more law-abiding than police: “Between October 1, 1987 and June 30, 2017, Florida revoked 11,189 concealed handgun permits for misdemeanors or felonies. This is an annual revocation rate of 10.4 permits per 100,000. In Texas in 2016 (the last year for which data is available), 148 permit holders were convicted of a felony or misdemeanor – a conviction rate of 12.3 per 100,000. Combining Florida and Texas data, we find that permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors and felonies at less than a sixth of the rate for police officers.”

The Facts: 

Comparing crime rates among permit holders to those of the general public and police officers is highly misleading in relation to whether concealed carry laws increase crime. Lott provides some evidence that permit holders commit fewer crimes per capita than the general population. That evidence, however, is misleading because permit holders are required to pass a background check, thereby reducing–but not eliminating–permit holders who have a criminal history.

A population of individuals who can pass a criminal background check is more law-abiding than a population that includes individuals who have a criminal history and therefore could not pass a background check. 

The real debate is whether permit holders are more or less law-abiding than the rest of the population who could pass a background check, but don’t obtain a permit. More data is needed to draw concrete conclusions. No accurate measure of criminality among permit holders exists and researchers have no data on the entire subset of the population who could pass a background check. 

Lott cites revocation data from both Michigan and North Carolina to bolster his claims about permit holders being extremely law abiding. However, both states are known to have inaccurate revocation data. A 2011 report by MLive, a Michigan online newspaper, analyzed revocation data in Michigan and found that in two large counties, 77% and 79% of the convictions of permit holders were unreported, meaning many permit holders who should have had their permits revoked did not. Many counties responded with  incomplete reports, or none at all, making statewide revocation data very difficult  in determining crime rates among permit holders. As MLive reports, frequently the boards overseeing permits aren’t even notified when a permit holder is convicted.

A 2011 investigation by The New York Times examining concealed carry permit data in North Carolina found that “More than 2,400 permit holders were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, excluding traffic-related crimes, over the five-year period.” This includes nearly  900 permit holders convicted of drunk driving and more than 200 convicted of weapon-related crimes. In roughly half of the more than 200 felony convictions, the holder’s permit was not revoked or suspended, including in cases of murder and kidnapping. 

Lott’s analysis of permit revocation data is fatally flawed. Lott’s data suffers from incomplete data, missing data, lack of access to public data on permit holders, improperly completed background checks on permits, the failure of some states to require a background check on permit holder applicants, and states that rely on an honor system for permit revocation.

In addition to relying on unreliable data, Lott’s choice to compare permit holders with police officers is not persuasive because law enforcement frequently encounters situations where the opportunity for criminal conduct by officers, such as the misuse of force and corruption, is a potential, whereas permit holders as a group will almost never face similar situations.

Sources:

John Lott, Gun Control Myths, 2020
John Lott, More Guns, Less Crime, 2010 (3rd Edition)
Michael Luo, “Guns in Public, and Out of Sight,” New York Times, Dec. 26, 2011
John Lott, “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2017,” SSRN, July 24, 2017
Devin Hughes, “GVPedia Concealed Carry Literature Review,” GVPedia, Feb. 27, 2019
John Agar, “Ready, aim, misfire: Analysis finds mistakes, misunderstanding in gun reports,” MLive, April 3, 2019 

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