In America, more guns mean less crime

A man shops for a gun at the Memphis pyramid Bass Pro Shops in Tennessee in May.
A man shops for a gun at the Memphis pyramid Bass Pro Shops in Tennessee in May. TNS

Americans are increasingly convinced that owning a gun makes them safer.

A new Rasmussen poll found that a majority of Americans, 68 percent, “feel safer in a neighborhood where guns are allowed.” A series of polls by Gallup, the Pew Research Center, ABC News and the Washington Post show similar results.

But it isn’t just what people say. They are clearly putting more stock in self-defense. Since 2007, the number of concealed-handgun permits has soared, from 4.6 million to 12.8 million. A new study by the Crime Prevention Research Center finds that a record 1.7 million permits have been issued in just the past year – a 15.4 percent increase.

Nationwide, 5.2 percent of adults have a permit. But in five states, more than 10 percent of adults now have concealed-carry permits. In much of the country, someone among theatergoers or restaurant customers is likely to be carrying a permitted concealed handgun.

But even these numbers don’t do full justice to the change that has taken place.

Recently, Maine became the 10th state to allow concealed carrying without a permit in all or almost all of the state. Kansas and Mississippi also made the change on July 1. In these states, we no longer know how many people are legally carrying guns, thus the 12.8 million figure is clearly an underestimation.

Women increasingly carry guns and hold more than a quarter of concealed-handgun permits. Since 2007, the number of permits among men has grown by 156 percent and among women by 270 percent.

There is also evidence that minorities are catching on to the benefits. Blacks now make up 7 to 8 percent of permit holders, but their rate of increase is double that of whites.

Poverty presents an obstacle as permits can be very expensive. In Illinois, for instance, the total cost of getting a permit is about $450. In neighboring Indiana, it is just $45.

With Democrats typically pushing for higher costs to reduce the number of people with permits, the biggest impact is to disarm the people who need the permits the most: poor minorities in high-crime urban areas.

The surge in new permits seems to have worked well. Between 2007 and 2014, murder rates fell from 5.6 to 4.2 deaths per 100,000 according to preliminary estimates. This 25 percent drop coincided with a 156 percent increase in the number of adults with permits. A similar drop occurred in other violent crimes.

The data have consistently shown that states with the biggest increases in permits also experienced the biggest reductions in murder rates.

Permit holders are extremely law-abiding – even more than police. The latest data from Texas and Florida continue to show that permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors and felonies at less than a sixth the rate that police officers are.

A couple of weeks ago, former CNN anchor Lynne Russell and her husband received national attention for using their permitted concealed handgun to save their lives. Only after the robber started shooting did Russell’s wounded husband pull out his gun and return fire.

With more than 12.8 million people legally able to carry handguns, the couple’s experience was unusual mainly in that it received national publicity because Russell is famous. Americans with concealed handguns save lives every day.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.