Laws reducing hurdles to legally carrying concealed firearms are argued to have a deterrent effect on crime by increasing its perceived costs. This argument rests on the assumption that these policies will either directly or indirectly increase the perceived distribution of firearm carriers, an assumption that is as yet untested. This article tests this assumption and, in so doing, suggests testing the necessary conditions of policy can be useful when assessing outcomes is difficult.
I collect survey data on the perceived number of firearm carriers across the United States and then use a hierarchical regression model to assess the impact of concealed carry policies on these perceptions, controlling for several contextual and individual-level factors.
The data suggest that there is no statistically discernible relationship between concealed carry policies and the public’s perceptions of the number of firearm carriers. Indeed, the data suggest that the perceived density of firearm carriers is similarly uncorrelated to the number of active concealed carriers.
The link between concealed carry policy and people’s beliefs about the number of firearm carriers in their community is unidentifiable in the data. The rationale for concealed carry deterrence, however, depends on such a link existing: it assumes that potential assailants are aware of the distribution of firearm carriers in the potential victim population, but the empirical evidence presented here suggests that that assumption simply does not hold. Because beliefs over the distribution of firearm carriers are impervious to permitting policies and do not respond positively to the true distribution of carriers, the data suggest easing concealed carry cannot deter crime.